Saturday, 19 May 2012

All hail the mighty Frankel; or, I doff my hat to a true champion

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It’s Frankel Day.


I actually woke up at five to seven this morning thinking: it’s Frankel Day. It felt like Christmas day. The sun was shining through the window; the dog was smiling; it felt like a day of jubilee.

When I get excited about a horse like this, I always want to write the blog before he runs. If there is some terrible disappointment, as there may always be in racing, I want to record the hope and joy first. I want to say it is Frankel day, rather than it was Frankel day.

So, what is it about Frankel? For those of you for whom the name means nothing, he is a four-year-old colt who has won every single one of his races so far. When you look at his form, it goes: 11111-.

This is rare in itself, but there is more. It’s not just that he wins, it’s how he wins. Last year, when he ran in the first classic of the season, the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, he went out in front so fast and so far that people watching thought for a moment he was the pacemaker. There are a few front-runners in racing, happy types who like to bowl along in front and lead the pack, but mostly great champions like to be covered up. They lie back, with something to chase, and then are produced near the end. Even if a horse does like to go in front, you almost never see something blasting off fifteen lengths in front and never coming back to the field.

Frankel galloped out of the stalls so quickly and roared into a long lead so fast that he had good horses labouring behind him after the first furlong. Nothing could even get close, and these were the best horses of their generation. The farther they went, the faster Frankel ran, his stride lengthening and deepening, tearing up the turf as if he were in a five furlong sprint instead of a testing mile. It was the most imperious performance I’ve ever seen. There are jockeys riding today who say they have never witnessed anything like it.

He never did anything quite that spectacular again, but he did not need to. He beat all comers in the best races, by two lengths, four lengths, five lengths.

He does something else astounding: when he is asked for acceleration, he quickens so immediately that it looks as if he has gone from cruise to turbo in the blink of an eye. It is pure, fierce, elemental power. Sometimes horses, even very good ones, take a moment to pick up, when asked the question; not Frankel. His response is instant, startling, almost unbelievable.

He is not a gentle, dear sort of horse. He is a fierce, mighty champion. He puts his ears flat to his head when he races, sticks his wide face with its white star right out so it is parallel to the ground, stretches his neck, every atom in his great, powerful body straining to win, to get in front, to beat everything in sight. There are people who say that he breaks the hearts of other horses, his strength and speed are so relentless.

For all that he is trained by one of the most talented men in racing, Sir Henry Cecil, who will use all the most sophisticated techniques at his disposal, Frankel has something wild and untrammelled about him. With flat horses, especially colts, you do not want to domesticate them too much. I was always told, as a child, don’t pat the colts. I loved them, and wanted to pet and gentle them; quite apart from the fact some of them might have had my arm off, they were not there for gentling. You want to keep as much of their wild, pack instinct as possible; the glorious, free ancestral memory that they get from those three original sires from whom all thoroughbreds are descended. That is what drives them to the front and keeps them there.

Perhaps that is what so exciting: it is the very fine line between the modern domestic and the ancient wild. Humans are very confined; we must wear clothes and have manners and do jobs and be rational and suppress some of our more crazy instincts. So there is something very wonderful in seeing that wild spirit out there on the green track.

The final, most striking thing about Frankel is the way he moves. I’ve written of this before. He has a stride which is so long, so deep, so raking, that sometimes it seems as if he is galloping at one stride for every other horse’s two. It looks as if he is dancing. It is a most striking combination of the effortless and the purely powerful. It is almost impossible to describe in words. It makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end. He never deviates from a straight line, just goes right to the line, true as an arrow.

He has brilliance, bravery and an indomitable will to win. There’s no funny business, although he can get a bit het up before a race. Once he is out there, where he was bred to be, he runs as if it is the only thing he has ever wanted to do. It’s a high glory.

Today, he comes out for the first time at four years old. Some horses do not train on; often, when they are successful at three, they are sent straight to stud at four, so no defeat will mar their reputation and reduce their stud fee. Frankel’s owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah, has very sportingly allowed his star to come out for another season, so that we may have the profound pleasure of seeing him. The horse looks as if he has come on over the winter, grown up, developed in strength and depth. He is a big, bonny fellow, deep in the girth, muscular and compact.

Anything can happen in racing. One stumble can finish a career. Nothing is nailed on. So my nerves mount.
I love the great champions. I love them for their raging brilliance, their heart and guts, their shining desire to win. I hate to see them brought low. All I want today is for this champion, perhaps the greatest I have ever seen, to soar.

Even if you have no interest in horses, it will be worth tuning in to Channel Four at 3.40 this afternoon. You may witness something extraordinary.

At full stretch, photograph uncredited:

Amazingly well-developed, even as a two-year-old. Photograph by Edward Whitaker:

Frankel wins The Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot 25.09.2010

At three, in his pomp. Photograph by Edward Whitaker:

Frankel - - Newmarket Guineas Meeting 30.4.11

The first time we’ve seen him at four, doing a racecourse gallop two weeks ago, photograph by the Press Association:

Frankel with jockey Tom Queally.

His lovely face, by Alan Crowhurst:

Frankel by Alan Crowhurst

No pictures from me just now; I might do a later blog with pictures this evening, if I have any strength left in me. Win or lose, I shall be wiped out after this, there is so much hope and emotion invested.

There’s a lovely little BBC film about him here, if you would like to see the beauty in action:

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