Frankel my dear, I do give a damn!
Chris McGrath resents being told that wider public has no interest in sires
This article was first published in May 2017
Forget Frankel. Or, rather, put him to one side. Clearly, there isn't the slightest danger of anyone forgetting him. Not when he sired a ninth stakes winner at Goodwood on Thursday, and has a half-brother to old rival Zoffany making his debut at Leopardstown on Friday. Yet the attention he is commanding, in his second career, has raised not only hackles but also some fundamental questions about the way the sport is promoted.
No doubt there are valid points on both sides of the debate. Certainly the profile Frankel has maintained at stud compares inequitably with that afforded other young stallions. The opening two legs of the US Triple Crown, for instance, have both been won by colts from the first crops of their respective sires. And it may well be that Bodemeister and Maclean’s Music would have made a still more remarkable start, had they entertained the same harem of princesses as Frankel.
On the other hand, we are talking about a horse to whom the usual rules have never applied. Having taken him so far beyond the racing parish, in his racing days, the very least the media can do is try to prolong public curiosity about what happens next.
Only rarely, after all, can those of us immersed in the bloodstock game arrest the heedless rush of the outside world long enough even to suggest its deeper enchantment. But the odds against doing so have seldom seemed so dismal as when absorbing the medicine served up by my friend and colleague Steve Dennis in his column on Thursday.
For if someone so intelligent can be so adamant that breeding must forever remain an arcane and impenetrable preserve, then what chance do we have of intriguing the newcomer he alleges to remain securely beyond reach?
I did not know that indifference could be so savage. Steve even finds something "a little sinister, a little cult-like" about the vicarious veneration of Frankel through his stock. He rebukes people for "refusing to let go", when the rest of the time they only want to look forward.
But that is exactly where those of us who paddle the bloodstock backwater - this reputedly stagnant creek - face our greatest challenge. For it is the besetting vice of its coverage that racing is viewed almost exclusively in those two dimensions: present and future. And the result is a chronic failure of understanding; a fatal disconnect, between Turf professionals and those who variously judge or spectate the outcome of their work.
The key word being "outcome", a racehorse typically being perceived purely as an aggregate of its fleeting public exertions. In the case of Frankel himself, you're talking fewer than 25 minutes. And there have obviously been many other champions whose owners did not indulge us with a third season in training.
To limit our interest to the interval between stalls and winning post is akin to detaching the apex stone from an Egyptian pyramid.
In fairness, the exposure of any racehorse being so ephemeral, it can be very hard for the public to recognise that accretion - through months and years, through frost and drought - of painstaking skill and devotion. But that does not mean we should despair of interesting anyone and everyone in these hidden dimensions, so long as they are brought to light with sufficient initiative, insight and flair.
Steve refers to the "mysteries" of "the bloodstock coterie" as though these lurk in some rankly overgrown secret garden, to which wider access is both unwelcome and unwanted. Yet the whole point is that none of us, even John Magnier, will ever wholly unravel these mysteries. As such, they offer abiding fascination for anyone who cares to think about them.
Is it really so abstruse, to ponder why it should be that a mare claimed for $8,000 and sent to Lucky Pulpit, standing at $2,500, should produce California Chrome? Or why his nemesis - Arrogate, son of the princely Unbridled's Song - should happen to be one of those, among countless flops, whose pedigree and conformation came through to make his $560,000 yearling tag a steal?
That kind of "mystery" can engage us all. Could even the most casual observer of the epic duel between California Chrome and Arrogate, at Santa Anita last year, fail to be intrigued that the dams of Lucky Pulpit and Unbridled's Song happen to be half-sisters?
To forswear everything that precedes their appearance on the track is no less of an affront, of course, to a sprint handicapper at Catterick than to a son of Frankel. Each is the product of a massive investment of time, planning, sweat and (relative to the resources available) money.
Exposed to the unforgiving draughts of racecourse competition, so many thoroughbreds can seem the briefest of candles; they gutter and fail. But each and every one of them has burned for years already, offering an illumination that can be shared by us all.