Oct 2012

Thanks For The Memories, Frankel

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He’s gone, like a great, quiet ship in the night. We hardly had time to digest him. Fourteen races... it doesn’t seem like enough, does it? And the final one was cool and effective, no banners and whistles with it. A length and a bit, not 10 or 11. A kick for old time’s sake, and a bit of a race. And now he’s gone, a great gale on the racetrack and suddenly silence. A void, not permanent of course, but permeant tonight.

The Champion Stakes at Ascot was Frankel’s swan song, the final peg in a career of three seasons. From an Australian’s persective, it took a long bloody time for the UK to embrace their hero. I’ve watched all of Frankel’s races, and it’s only since Royal Ascot this year have I sensed a tide of emotional public support for the horse, one that is bigger than racing, bigger than sport. Perhaps Black Caviar had something to do with that, perhaps it’s just circumstance. It’s a shame the ride is over, just when it was getting good.

Back in August, I made a decision to get to York for the
Juddmonte. That afternoon on the Knavesmire, I saw a brilliant horse sizzle. Frankel wasn’t the finest-looking thoroughbred I’ve ever seen. He is knobbly, odd angles here and there and his head is not beautiful. But in action he is faultless, all elastic rhythm and grace. If you want running perfection, a forehand that propels away from the force of a rear end, there it was right there. Frankel, by Galileo out of Kind.

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Hours out of the Juddmonte, I noticed a few things from my photographs - One of them was the tens of thousands of people that flowed over Frankel’s every move. Of course, I’d seen them at the track. But take a look at the picture at top, the folks in the background in awe of this big bay racehorse. They held their phones in the air, they camped for hours by the parade rail waiting for him. People that knew nothing about racing had gone to York that day to see what all the fuss was about, and they followed everyone’s lead: watch Frankel, adore Frankel. Cheer Frankel.

Do you ever remember a time when a jockey cheered himself for coming second? Do you ever recall a time when a single horse filled every seat in the house? Well, yes actually. Black Caviar has done it tens of times, but that’s why we’re spoiled in Australia. We know that hysteria intimately, we feel like its custodians now. It’s kind of cool to have it going on in the old country, and kind of sad to admit that it’s over.

When Sea The Stars retired, I recall hearing John Oxx say that 300 years of breeding had come down to him, a single perfect three-year-old out of Urban Sea. He was right. The only fault I have with Sea The Stars is that he didn’t lean into a four-year-old career, unlike Frankel. Nevertheless, I wonder if it may be said that Frankel is the bottomless pit of racing, the ‘best we’ve ever seen’? He didn’t race internationally in an age where doing so is so goddam easy. He was conservatively, carefully campaigned. Un-ambitiously, you might suggest. But taken on what he did win, each of his 14 peerless, pitch-perfect victories, he was sensational, and on that day, each time, no horse in the world would have beaten him. He probably is the best we’ve ever seen, it’s just that we won’t ever be sure about it.

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Frankel has given me one of the best European seasons of racing I’ve ever known, and much of that comes down to the Twitter community, the diehards who, like me, stayed up into the witching hours to watch him race through our winter. For them, like me, the plot wasn’t just Frankel. It was the supporting cast: the faithful Bullet Train (pictured below), and Excelebration, in waiting. It was St Nicholas Abbey and exciting Zoffany, who got closest. It was Tom Queally and Henry Cecil, and history, fame and glory in equal amounts. Yes, dear Frankel was on rare turf. I’m not sure we’ll be wrapped up in a horse like this for a long, long time.

So forth he goes, to Banstead Manor at Newmarket, which won’t be too far from his hunting grounds. I suppose it’s exciting, at least for the breeding industry. But a horse this great... what an enormous vacuum that’s he gone from the grounds. I can’t imagine how vacant it will be in Cecil’s yard when they load him up and he’s gone. Nothing lasts forever, not even Frankel. So bon voyage young man, and thanks for the memories.

Frankie And The Lost Kingdom of Camelot

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Oh boy. I love this racing game when it throws a curve ball, a perfect hook that knocks us all out of the playing park. Tonight it came in the shape of the Italian fantastico Frankie Dettori. The Godolphin gun will pilot gorgeous Camelot in this weekend’s Arc de Triomphe. You heard it folks, up off the floor now.

Where have the old days gone, the days of the Irish and the Arabs punching it out around the world’s sale rings, of stable rivalry so close and exhausting it was like a film script? Au revoir, say I. Frankie stepping up for Camelot is the most exciting headline racing has had in a while. It’s part two of Aidan shaking Sheikh Mohammed’s hand in Meydan back in March, of Coolmore shipping horses to Dubai for the first time in so many years. It’s modernity and simple mathematics - an awesome three-year-old and a seasoned, incomparably stylish and brilliant jockey. Quel magnifique.

Camelot is humming in neutral at the moment, questioned after the failed St Leger bid, questioned over questionable form lines. He is, without doubt, the smartest three-year-old going around in my opinion. As Frankie told RacingUK today, Camelot didn’t just win the Derby. He spread-eagled the Derby field. In my eyes, the horse put up a gallant fight in the Leger, and I found all sorts of holes in Joseph’s ride. Scores of people have disagreed, claiming the colt is simply not good enough. We’ll see.

Tactically, Ballydoyle couldn’t have chosen better. Frankie is like the modern melt of Jim Pike (grace), Lester Piggott (tactile brilliance) and Darby Munro (goes for the hole). He is the most gifted rider on the circuit. In his hands, I suspect Camelot will move like a 360, and if there’s acceleration there, Frankie will extract it. If there’s petrol left, he will drain it. Camelot won’t know what’s hit him (figuratively). And with 25 successive Arc rides in his ass pocket, you’d have to think Dettori will have the colt right where he should be. We rarely complain that this man gets it wrong in running.

So, has it fallen into Frankie’s lap to restore the lost kingdom of Camelot? If you were going to pick a jock to do it, he would be it (Johnny Murtagh would work too). Of course, there will be critics. Without Nathaniel and Danedream and Snow Fairy, people will say it isn’t the strongest Arc renewal, and they’ll pour that out if the game colt wins. If he loses, he won’t have lost much. There are some older heavyweights lining up, and the St Leger already wiped a flawless record.

Tonight, we roll around in a match made in heaven. And respect to Dettori. It’s an honour, he said, to be asked to ride the Guineas and Derby winner. His humility is impressive. The underlings of change are pretty strong in this story, for everyone is wondering how Godolphin feel about this news, about how their stamped rider has plunged into enemy territory. Is Frankie, in this freelance guise, open season, so open he’s riding for Coolmore after seven years? Apparently so, and I think it’s fabulous.