Work-rider Fetherstonhaugh plays a pivotal role in the year of wonder horse Frankel
RACING:Frankel, who was unbeaten in his 14-race career, was the undoubted star of the 2012 Flat season, writes BRIAN O'CONNOR
Shane Fetherstonhaugh knows the way the media works. His late father, Brian, was racing correspondent in the now defunct Irish Press. Accompanying his Dad to the races, he learned early that working behind-the-scenes is no route to headlines. Except, of course, when that work involves Frankel.
Every day for the last two years, the 35-year-old from Skerries worked with a horse that, within a sport acutely aware of its history, will forever define 2012.
Fetherstonhaugh’s credentials as a work-rider had already been impressive. He guided the combustible 2005 Derby hero Motivator during morning workouts when coarse hands could have left Epsom glory behind forever on a cold Newmarket gallop.
There was also the top-class filly Midday. But, as always, Frankel was different: very, very different.
When Frankie Dettori’s drugs ban is forgotten, the outcry over how the JP McManus’s Gold Cup winner Synchronized got fatally injured in the Grand National becomes a footnote, and Camelot’s foiled Triple Crown bid is reduced to a curio, Frankel will still define 2012.
There are some who will argue he will define the breed for decades to come. Unbeaten in 14 starts, including 10 Group One’s, the image of Frankel’s devastating power in both Royal Ascot’s Queen Anne Stakes and York’s Juddmonte International in particular, resolutely places him among the pantheon of select names that shape our view of equine excellence.
With hindsight, though, comes a sense of inevitability about it all that never existed day-to-day.
Trainer Henry Cecil was justifiably lauded for master-minding a perfect career and Tom Queally got the glory of steering the great horse on the track.
But both never failed to emphasise Fetherstonhaugh’s role in every morning faultlessly working on the impulsive instincts that could have reduced Frankel to yet another burnt-out morning glory.
“He was never that bad,” his old friend remembers now that Frankel is retired, reputation established forever, to a life of luxury at stud. “He was simply quite an exuberant horse that always wanted to please. And he was strong. The whole idea was to keep a lid on him. I’m nine and a half stone. He’s half a ton. There was only ever going to be one winner if it became a fight.”
The horsemanship required to emerge as boss in the mysterious telepathy that fizzes back and forth through the reins can be a priceless yet generally unrecognised element in the making of a champion.