Frankel loading four barrels in hunt for first European Group 1 winner
James Thomas on what could be a landmark weekend for the young sire
There are myriad ways to judge a stallion's performance, and by just about all of them sophomore sire extraordinaire Frankel is scoring highly.
He is a short-head behind his old adversary Nathaniel on the European second-crop sires' table by progeny earnings, with the Newsells Park resident's magnum opus Enable boasting a seven-figure prize-money haul that dwarfs that of Frankel's leading earner, Cracksman.
When examining the season-crop sires' list by number of stakes winners, however, Frankel's tally of ten black-type winners in 2017 is double the number supplied by his nearest rival, Helmet.
In fact, ten stakes winners put Frankel behind only the likes of Galileo, Dubawi and Sea The Stars on the leading sires' list, and on an equal footing with Dansili and Kodiac. All of whom have a significant numerical advantage over Frankel, by virtue of being much further down the line in their respective stallion careers.
Frankel's first crop, now three-year-olds, are currently operating at a deeply impressive Group winners-to-foals ratio of ten per cent. But even that has not stopped some hecklers from suggesting he has not lived up to expectations.
Perhaps the primary reason for such nay-saying is that while his contemporaries such as Nathaniel, Excelebration, Rajsaman and Helmet have all supplied a European Group 1 winner, Frankel has yet to do so.
In truth, those who use that particular stick to beat Frankel must be so damned difficult to please that they would seem unlikely ever to be silenced. Nevertheless the dual world champion has four chances to get that particular monkey off his back this weekend.
First up comes Queen Kindly, the only filly set to contest the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock. Admittedly she has plenty to find on ratings, but she does receive weight from each of her 11 rivals, and, with Paul Hanagan in the saddle, would appear to be the pick of Richard Fahey's trio of runners.
Next comes Qipco Irish Champion Stakes contender Eminent, who appeared to have turned a corner when quite literally running away with the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano at Deauville last time.
He is unlikely to have things entirely his own way out in front on this occasion, but Eminent has already run well in a pair of Classics, namely the 2,000 Guineas and Derby. And with 1m2f potentially his optimum trip, he looks capable of closing the three and a half lengths that separated him and race favourite Churchill at Newmarket.
On Sunday it will be the turn of Lady Frankel, a half-sister to Lope De Vega, to fly the flag for her sire in Group 1 company, as she tackles the Qatar Prix du Moulin at Chantilly.
It may only have been a Group 3 that the Gestut Ammerland homebred won last time, but the short neck margin of victory underplays her superiority on the day.
She met all kinds of trouble having made rapid headway as the field entered the straight, but once finding room to manoeuvre she motored home to overhaul Tisbutadream under little more than a hands-and-heels ride.
Some 20 minutes later the two-year-old Rostropovich, a 1,100,000gns yearling and half-brother to Zoffany, is due to tackle the likes of Beckford and Gustav Klimt in the Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes.
He may have something to find with the market principals, but proved he remains on an upward curve when landing the Group 2 Futurity Stakes over course and distance on his most recent outing.
The Qatar Prix Niel at Chantilly may not be a Group 1, but both of Frankel's representatives, Cracksman and Finche, are already harbouring top-level aspirations.
Cracksman was last seen bolting up in the Great Voltigeur, an effort that saw him crowned Frankel's leading performer by Racing Post Ratings (RPR) with a mark of 123. Should he produce a similar effort at Chantilly on Sunday, John Gosden may just have to reconsider his plan to swerve the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with the fast-improving colt.
Finche is rated some 12lb inferior to Cracksman, but has only had the three starts, and arrives on a steep upward curve himself having been last seen winning the Group 2 Prix Eugene Adam. As a half-brother to two top-flight winners in Byword and Proviso, at this stage it is impossible to say just how high Finche can climb.
At Leopardstown on Saturday, meanwhile, Nelson, a half-brother to US Army Ranger, will be bidding to land his first Pattern victory when tackling the Group 3 Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile Stakes.
Moreover, Frankel is also set to be represented by a pair of blue-blooded two-year-olds on Saturday, with Elarqam debuting at Ascot and Lightening Quick set to appear at the Curragh.
The Mark Johnston-trained Elarqam is the eighth foal out of the top-class miler Attraction, who landed no fewer than five Group 1s throughout her glittering racecourse career – including both the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas in 2004.
He is a sibling to six winners, including his three-parts sister Cushion, a Group 3-placed daughter of Galileo, and the Group 3 winner Fountain Of Youth.
Elarqam was offered by the Duke of Roxburghe's Floors Stud at Book 1 of last year's Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, where he was bought by Shadwell, with Angus Gold landing the winning bid of 1,600,000gns.
Lightening Quick meanwhile is the second foal out of Lightening Pearl, a daughter of Marju who landed the 2011 Cheveley Park Stakes for Ger Lyons, who now trains her offspring. Lightening Pearl is a sister to the dual Group 1 winner Sotano Crown and a daughter of the Listed-winning Jioconda.
Bred by Sheikh Fahad and his brother's operation Qatar Bloodstock, Lightening Quick is a brother to dual winner Lightening Fast, who has a peak RPR of 97.
That pair will be bidding to become the eighth and ninth two-year-old winners from Frankel's second crop, after the flashy Herculean, a brother to Fair Eva, led home a one-two for the sire, ahead of Wadilsafa, at Ascot on Friday.
With so much competitive racing this weekend, clearly there can be no guarantees even for Frankel. But if he has proved anything so far during his career, it is that almost anything is possible.