'It promises to be a benchmark moment in the 300-year history of the great old game'
FRANKEL’S STATUS as one of the great horses in racing history is already assured. There are plenty already willing to describe him as the greatest ever, an argument that will be enhanced should the best miler most of us have looked at successfully graduate up to the mile and a quarter plus of today’s Juddmonte International at York. And if he manages to do it in his usual overwhelming fashion it promises to be a benchmark moment in the 300-year history of the great old game.
The flamboyant colt has already passed most of the tests those centuries have thrown up as demands of the truly legendary equine names.
Unbeaten in a dozen starts, a champion juvenile and Classic winner who has continued into a four-year-old career that featured his best ever performance when destroying the opposition in June’s Queen Anne Stakes, the theory that beating Excelebration over and over again didn’t amount to much got blown out of the water by the latter’s subsequent Marois success in France earlier this month.
At a mile Frankel has nothing left to prove: but if brilliance, consistency and overwhelming class are boxes to be ticked off in the “greatest ever” debates beloved of barrooms all over the world, then versatility must surely come into the equation too. And that’s the fascination of today’s Group One highlight.
On the official handicap figures that Frankel’s routing racing style has sent spinning throughout his career, none of today’s opposition can claim to be anywhere near hollering distance of him.
But those figures were earned at a mile. The International is almost a full two and a half furlongs further. And those who casually dismiss distance as irrelevant to Frankel are ignoring Henry Cecil’s determination to continue campaigning his superstar runner at a mile long after he’d anything really left to prove at that trip. That argument also ignores how Cecil won’t have anything at all to do with trying Frankel at Europe’s ultimate test, the mile and a half Arc de Triomphe. Trip really does matter, even to the very best.
Cecil, whose battle with cancer prevented him attending the Sussex Stakes three weeks ago, aims to be at York today, another element to an already emotion-filled event which sees Aidan O’Brien pitch in St Nicholas Abbey as part of a three-pronged team to match Cecil’s own trio.
Tactically it will be fascinating to see what the Irish team come up with: whether or not they go hell-for-leather in a bid to expose any stamina doubts in the great horse, or try to slow things up to tempt Frankel back into his old impetuous hard-pulling ways. The presence of Twice Over and Bullet Train though looks to make that option unlikely.
What is most likely though is that Frankel will again be at the sort of odds that makes watching rather than betting an unavoidable course of action for most of us, although anyone needing to bet on such a horse to appreciate him probably needs to be looking at some other sport.
Lurking at the back of every mind though will be the legend of 40 years ago when the horse most often used for comparative purposes with Frankel, the mighty Brigadier Gerard, lost to Roberto.
At one time the International had a reputation as something of a graveyard for reputations. Grundy got beat in 1975; Bosra Sham in 1997. The Brigadier in particular getting beaten though was seismic. It was the only time in 18 starts, ranging from six furlongs to a mile and a half, that he was beat.
But by then he had proven his greatness, and at all sorts of trips. His versatility box had been well and truly ticked. It will be possibly the greatest shock in modern racing history if Frankel can’t do the same today.