Frankel aims to live up to hype at Ascot
Named after a Hall of Fame trainer and sired by a champion, Frankel seemed destined for big things. Few, though, could have predicted just how good he would turn out.
The unbeaten 3-year-old colt, the world's top-ranked thoroughbred, has commanded interest in Britain with a breakthrough year. Frankel will try to live up to his reputation by winning his ninth straight race Saturday - the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at the inaugural British Champions Day at Ascot.
''Even when you are rating previous generations, there aren't many horses who compare,'' said Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to the horse's owner, Khalid Abdullah. ''He's in a very rarefied atmosphere with the quality he's producing and I hope he'll continue to do so. I am cherishing every moment with him. A horse like him might not come around again.''
Frankel is the headliner at British Champions Day, the richest day in the country's racing history with $4.7 million in prize money. Queen Elizabeth II will be attending.
It was Frankel's stunning victory in this year's 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket - one of the five classics of the British thoroughbred season - that established him as a potential superstar.
Surging to an astonishing 15-length lead halfway through the race, Frankel maintained that cushion before cruising home by six lengths.
Afterward, Timeform, the company that rates performances by horses, gave Frankel a 142 rating - tied for the fourth-highest mark since its founding in 1948. Only Sea Bird (145), Brigadier Gerard and Tudor Minstrel (both 144) ranked higher.
''To be 15 lengths clear in a classic at any stage of the race is fairly unheard of, really,'' Grimthorpe said. ''The way he still powered home to win by six lengths in a headwind was one of the all-time great performances by a thoroughbred.''
His last victory, by more than four lengths over top miler Canford Cliffs, was just as impressive, further ramping up the global hype for a horse yet to be tested over more than a mile.
''I think I've read more about him than I've ever said - what more is there to say?'' said Henry Cecil, who ranks Frankel as the greatest horse he has trained. ''He was not easy early on but has grown up a lot and has improved physically.''
According to Grimthorpe, that's an understatement.
''He's a domineering horse,'' he said. ''He has that tremendous cruising speed, and can quicken off it. His stride at full stretch - the other horses are taking 1 1/2 or two strides to his one. That gives him an elemental extra gear that is so intangible.''
Sired in 2008 by Galileo, winner of the English and Irish Derbies in 2001, Abdullah named the horse after Bobby Frankel, one of the Saudi prince's main trainers in the United States who died of cancer in 2009 at 68. The Brooklyn-born Frankel was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1995 and saddled 3,654 winners in his 43-year career, earning more than $227 million.
''Bobby was an exceptionally influential trainer ... our main trainer for 20 years, based in California but he operated from all posts, including the East Coast and ... Canada,'' Grimthorpe said. ''So it's a tribute to him.''
Frankel the horse has yet to race outside Britain, but Grimthorpe has set up the intriguing possibility that the colt could run in the 2012 Breeders' Cup in what would probably be the final race of his career before retiring to stud.
''It would be a wonderful thing to take a horse like Frankel to race in America. I'm sure the American racing public would just love it,'' Grimthorpe said. ''The interest in the States has been phenomenal, which is wonderful. In a perfect world, he would race there.''
Frankel currently is the 1-3 favorite with most bookmakers for the QEII Stakes. The filly Immortal Verse (6-1) is likely to be the closest of the seven challengers after winning the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and then beating 14-time Group 1 winner Goldikova in Deauville's Prix Jacques Le Marois in August.
The Richard Hannon-trained Dick Turpin (25-1) and Excelebration (6-1) - winner of the Group 1 Qatar Prix Du Moulin De Longchamp on Sept. 11 - could also threaten Frankel's unbeaten record.
''It looks like there are one or two good horses in the race and no race is a formality,'' Cecil said. ''There is no such thing as a 'good thing' but I am very happy with him.''