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FeaturePeople's Champion

Frankel: greatness not in question - but doing it for Sir Henry made it so much more poignant

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Julian MuscatFeatures writer

To mark National Racehorse Week, this week we're profiling your five finalists in the race to be crowned The People's ChampionIn the third instalment, Julian Muscat– with the help of Racing Post readers – considers what made Frankel so special. You can now vote for your champion here.

Where to start? That’s the dilemma confronting any attempt to chronicle what made Frankel resonate with the public. The multitude of strands leaves us spoilt for choice.

Frankel’s greatness is not in question. It is his popularity that preoccupies readers as they consider who to crown The People’s Champion. And since their votes have propelled Frankel this far, the reasons for nominating him are highlighted here in the quest to advance his cause.

But first, some context. Frankel is the only Flat horse to reach the final, which attests to the impact he made on the track. Both Sea The Stars and Dancing Brave departed in the semi-finals, leaving Khalid Abdullah’s homebred as the sole representative.

He is also the finalist to have raced most recently, the others being Kauto Star, Demman, Desert Orchid and Red Rum. For that reason, his matchless career requires little amplification save to remind of its singular brilliance.

Over three seasons he went unbeaten in 14 races, ten of them in Group 1s. He won all but two of his starts by clear daylight, three of them by ten lengths or more. So much so that your choice of career highlight embraced no fewer than five of Frankel’s victories.

For David M Brown, “his acceleration in winning the Royal Lodge is the best I’ve seen in 60 years of watching racing”. While for Kevin Gerard Kearney, “his Queen Anne was probably his greatest”.

For Simon Hunter, it was the Juddmonte International and its aftermath – “on the way home on the train with complete strangers, all of us were in awe of what we had witnessed. We had seen greatness”.

Darren Daniels will forever remember seeing Frankel in the flesh in the Champion Stakes at Ascot – “unbelievable . . . an electric turn of foot . . . a once-in-a-lifetime horse”. And for many of you, that 2,000 Guineas power-play was Frankel’s tour de force. “I had to rewatch it several times just to believe what I’d seen,” wrote Emma Mason.

Frankel leads all the way to land a spectacular victory in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2011
Frankel leads all the way to land a spectacular victory in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2011Credit: Mark Cranham (

The message is clear: a true great bequeaths a treasure trove of memories, any one of which is better than the best of the rest. Sea The Stars may have been in Frankel’s league but he never delivered a victory in the manner of Frankel’s 2,000 Guineas. “Jaw-dropping,” remembered Chris Waterton of the Newmarket display. “Arguably the greatest performance of all time,” maintained Tom Lee. “His 2,000 Guineas win was explosive; never seen anything like that before,” said Brett Grange. And Craig Tracey called it: “The 2,000 destruction job.”

Displays of overwhelming superiority are guaranteed to hit the spot, which is why Secretariat is widely considered a horse without peer. His 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes was preposterous. Frankel, too, was big box-office, producing "more often than not, Hollywood-style winning performances," as Paul Kane put it.

But Frankel’s popularity had an extra dimension. Sir Henry Cecil’s handling of him wasn’t just flawless. It came at a time when “the greatest and most loved trainer in the history of the turf”, according to Jeremy Tolley, was on his knees both personally and professionally.

Many of those who gave their reasons for nominating Frankel mentioned Cecil in tandem. Until his equine masterpeice arrived, the man who dominated British racing for 15 years from the late 1970s was at a low ebb. His fall from grace was abetted by a spate of personal setbacks, not least when he contracted stomach cancer in 2006.

“Trained by a genius trainer,” posted Pamela Robertson Durham. “Trained by the master of masters,” agreed Mark Phillips. “Frankel’s relationship with the late, great Henry Cecil was brilliant,” wrote Anya Mitchell. “Henry Cecil’s blaze of glory; the greatest horse of the greatest trainer in his most difficult hour,” said Duncan Edwards. And most poignantly of all, given Cecil died just eight months after Frankel retired, from Edward Kaley: “I think Frankel kept Sir Henry Cecil alive.”

Sir Henry Cecil with Frankel
Sir Henry Cecil with FrankelCredit: Edward Whitaker

It would be churlish to separate Frankel from his trainer even though The People’s Champion’s terms of reference place the emphasis squarely on the horse. In any case, Frankel can more than stand alone. His balletic power at the gallop separated him from other thoroughbreds. “The most visually impressive horse I have ever seen,” declared Anna Papalouca.

That trait was highlighted by many, among them Paul Brennan, who wrote: “Fantastic looker, even better mover, the greatest!” For Darren Wynne, “his running stride made him look like he was gliding on the track”. Neil Payne, Steve Collier and Kenneth Wall all plumped for three succinct words: “Poetry in motion.” As did Sasha Thorbek, who added: “One of the most breathtaking horses to watch on the track; so much presence.”

Another theme to emerge from readers’ observations is that popular horses are those who never disappoint. This is, after all, a sport to which betting is inextricably linked. “An absolute beast of a horse who never let down his racing public,” said Robert Charters.

On the Flat, where races can be lost at the start and jockey error is rarely retrievable, greatness and popularity go hand in hand. So you should heed the words of the man who trained him, and who knew a thing or two about the turf. “He's the best I’ve ever had, the best I’ve ever seen,” Cecil said on Frankel’s retirement. “I’d be very surprised if there’s ever been anything better.”

And for all you jumping diehards who would never countenance a Flat horse, heed the words of Stephen Shaw. “Best Flat horse ever,” Shaw declared. “I am into jumps racing far more but for three years I loved watching Frankel destroy the opposition.”

Frankel (Tom Queally) power home in the 2012 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot
Frankel and Tom Queally power home in the 2012 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal AscotCredit: Edward Whitaker

In all my years of racing he is the only 'certainty' I have witnessed

Frankel's incredible speed over a mile made him untouchable at the distance. His win in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot was breathtaking.

You knew when he won from the front in the 2,000 Guineas that this was something special. From that date on I backed him ante-post for all his forward races that season. In all my years of racing – and I am 70 – he is the only 'certainty' I have witnessed.

The partnership between Henry Cecil and Frankel was a once-in-a-lifetime fairytale bond.
David Walters, Racing Post reader

Frankel: the facts and figures

Foaled 2008 in Great Britain, bay colt by Galileo - Kind (Danehill)

Owner-breeder Khalid Abdullah (Juddmonte Farms)

Trainer Sir Henry Cecil, Newmarket

Jockey Tom Queally

Racing career Unbeaten in 14 races (2010-12) including 12 Group races

Group 1s 10 (last 9 in succession, European record)

2,000 Guineas 2011 (by 6 lengths)

Other Group 1s 2010 Dewhurst Stakes, 2011 St James's Palace, Sussex, Queen Elizabeth II, 2012 Lockinge, Queen Anne, Sussex, Juddmonte International and Champion Stakes

Official world champion 2011, 2012

Best Racing Post Rating 143 (highest ever awarded on Flat) in 2012 Queen Anne Stakes (won by 11 lengths) and Juddmonte International (won by 7 lengths)

Champion sire 2021

Read more: 

Desert Orchid: so much more than just an astonishing racehorse - he became part of the family too 

Denman: they called him The Tank for good reason - and he pushed the boundaries of what we thought possible

Kauto Star beats Sea The Stars to take last spot in People's Champion final 

Red Rum sees off Tiger Roll in battle of Aintree legends with just one final place left to fill 

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Published on 12 September 2023Last updated 16:07, 14 September 2023