‘Frankelising them’ – is this the greatest horse ever?
Everyone I speak to about Frankel pauses before they answer the key question: Is he the best ever?
I’m expecting some caution, but no one can quite contain themselves, and the answer from manager, jockey, Chief Executive, the public, everyone is … yes.
But why – why is he the best ever? What definitive evidence is there? Well, they say seeing is believing.
To watch Frankel win races is something that feels like a privilege and a joy, even for those who don’t usually watch horse racing. It’s jaw dropping.
While manager Lord Teddy Grimthorpe graciously concedes he is biased, his awe is shared by neutrals through the English racing town of Newmarket, and around the globe:
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 40 years of racing, he is truly exceptional, he has beauty and fluidity of movement which is unsurpassed for me, the way he handles himself when he’s running. We say he ‘Frankelises’ horses.”
Frankel is officially rated the best horse in the world.
Sired by the formidable thoroughbred Galileo, he has won all 13 of his races in breathtaking style. The quality of the opposition (the highest), the speeds and the manner of his victories is what has moved hardened racing folk to dare to say he’s not just the best they’ve seen, he’s the best they’ll ever see.
His 14th race is set to be his last.
He will race in the Qipco Champions Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, the biggest race on a day when half of the world’s top ten horses are expected to be in action and the prize money runs into millions. It’s like Cup final day in football with five different finals.
Frankel is a godsend for Rod Street, who’s had the job of promoting and opening up British racing to a wider audience. Where most compare Frankel and his incredible genes to Usain Bolt, he throws Pele, Maradona and Mohammad Ali into the ring. For their swagger and showmanship that added to the sheer speed and ability.
Jockey Tom Queally has had the honour and the pressure of riding Frankel and he’ll be on board as usual on Saturday. He has been neither given nor asked for the credit he deserves for keeping his cool and building a great relationship with the superstar beneath him:
“It’s as if nothing before Frankel seems to count and I don’t know what will happen after him,” he said.
“It’s as if I’d every nice winner I’ll ride or good horse I’ll ride straight away question will be how does he compare with Frankel.”
Frankel is formidable enough without the help of one of the great trainers.
But his relationship with Henry Cecil warms the heart as well as rewrites the record books. Cecil has been seriously ill with stomach cancer throughout Frankel’s life, and yet he has found a way to nurture him, bring him through expertly and guide his career to perfection. Cecil’s own remarkable story- waves of success followed by dark years of personal trauma – has found a late chapter he could only dream of. Not just a great horse, the great horse arrived in his life. You have to conclude his deep love for Frankel has actually given him strength to fight his illness.
‘It’s a Hollywood story this is,’ says Street.
“Henry Cecil is a legendary trainer and a great British gentleman and a great British eccentric and there’s something rather magical about this. Frankel comes along who he clearly loves and clearly loves him and have had this wonderful journey together.”
No-one will say definitively that this is Frankel’s last race. The decision will be made by Saudi Arabian owner Prince Khalid Abdulla, who has with a long respected history in racing and with an expert team around him. But I’m told quietly away from the cameras that it will be a major shock if he continues beyond Ascot.
And then, well it’s not quite a case of retirement at the age of four. There’s the small matter of his reproductive power. The aim would be for him to sire a new generation of horses with his special genes. And that could make him worth over $160m.
Like racing itself there are no guarantees (and the quality of the opposition means it’s possible he could be beaten in his last race – very unlikely but possible).
With Frankel, it’s difficult to manage expectation when it comes to the special one, once described as a genetic lightning flash that won’t be repeated for 100 years.
As one awestruck racing fan said to me at Newmarket, where this all started: ‘It’s amazing to know that one day I’ll be able to tell people – I saw Frankel run’.
The special one – in their own words
The biggest problem I have is keeping him relaxed. He has the will to win like no other race horse I’ve ridden and normal circumstances when you have a horse that is head and shoulders above rest or head and shoulders above who he’s racing against. Normally you get to a period of the race where good horses prick their ears and go easy because they’ve done what they have to do. In most cases horses would back off but he just puts his head down and gallops, he eats up the ground so to speak. He’s really competitive and will to win like no other horse I’ve ridden.
Lord Teddy Grimthorpe
Racing mager for Prince Khalid Abdulla
I’ve never seen anything like it in my 40 years of racing, he is truly exceptional, he has beauty and fluidity of movement which is unsurpassed for me, the way he handles himself when he’s running, he gets into the most beautiful rhythm. When accelerating he gets lower, his stride is so long he stretches his legs and his hind legs underneath him, compresses his lungs and when he stretches right out there is a huge intake of breath which allows him this tremendously extravagant stride and allows him to travel so brilliantly in a race. We say that he Frankelises horses – for his one stride another horse has got to take one and half strides just to keep up, so they always struggling just to try and maintain the equilibrium
Sir Henry Cecil
Trainer, speaking in June 2012
I’m very lucky to have him I think it’s important for any sport to have champions. He’s created a lot of interest outside racing. The public have given him great support and I hope he’s replaying them.
asked in June about what his next race will be he uses a familiar answer……
Remember they are not machines, you’ve got to feel your way and watch him and let the horse do the talking. He’ll tell me.
Chief Executive, British Champions Series
Demand was such sold out 3 weeks ago tickets being sold on EBay for five or six times the value. Wherever he has raced this summer there has been a surge in attendance. And the behaviour he creates around the parade ring is interesting as well. British racing fans are usually quite reserved. We are usually appreciative but attentive. But Frankel celebrates like a real champion. When he comes in he gets raucous cheers you can’t move around parade ring and has really brought audience to life and really engaged with big racing audience.