Frankel: Alastair Down on the emergence of a genuine superstar in the Guineas
'They had the rare and raw courage to let him go out and prove he was special'
Following the news of the passing of legendary owner-breeder Khalid Abdullah, we remember the day his superstar colt Frankel lit up Newmarket and gave us a glimpse of what was to come
It has been an arid spring but something astounding blossomed on Newmarket's ancient Heath yesterday when Frankel put his Guineas field to beautiful rout in one of the definitive performances in the history of the turf.
Usually when you witness something utterly merciless it is cruel to watch, but not on this imperishable and joyous afternoon. They had not gone 200 yards when it hit you smack in the very marrow that the stuff of racing's future folklore was taking flight in front of us all as Frankel piled it on from the front and put his field contemptuously to the sword.
For a fraction of a second you just had to check with the rational part of the brain that Frankel hadn't taken charge of Tom Queally and was bolting to some ghastly oblivion. But there was no madness here, just the overwhelming sense of limitless power suddenly unleashed, avalanche-like, as he raced on a matchless even keel that had his rivals stunned stupid from stall-crash. Never before have I seen a top-class mile race over within two furlongs.
For months Henry Cecil and his team have husbanded the resources of this colt in a million for this day. And all praise to the trainer and Queally for keeping it so gloriously simple. No tactical complications, no "what ifs", no soft options. They had the rare and raw courage to let Frankel go out and prove he was as spectacularly special as they believed him to be. Here was a colt who loves to run and to restrain him was to disappoint him – so they went the bold route and let him bowl along to utterly devastating effect.
In the paddock beforehand he got a touch warm but he gave you the impression of coiled power primed to deliver. And if Queally was brave in the race, he was faultless ahead of it, ceaselessly reassuring the Goliath beneath with endless pats, gentle fuss and chat in his ears. A man absolutely tuned in to the fact that Frankel could be vulnerable in the preliminaries in a way that he would never be in the race. You can't win a race in the paddock or on the way to post but you can lose it before it starts and the horseman in the jockey that is Queally was master of those tricky moments.
There is little I can tell you about the race itself other than to try to convey the magic as the air of vague disbelief turned to a wonderful certainty that he would indeed get home, imperious and unassailable, in a fashion that exceeded even the wildest hopes of all those who crave a great horse and love the majesty of an indisputable champion in full cry.
If there was a moment which defined the leagues by which Frankel was superior it came three furlongs out when Queally looked back between his legs to find out why it was so very quiet out in front with not a pounding hoof in earshot.
The glance told him he was a novice chase margin ahead and almost by instinct the jockey's hands came off his neck as he took half a pull on the powerhouse below him to conserve a touch of energy in case some marathon runner's wall reared up out of the blue in the run to the line.
The Rowley Mile is a wide, lonely place and bereft of reference points when a horse is a country mile clear, but Frankel never faltered and, with three judicious smacks to keep his mind on the job in hand, he ran home straight and true.
By the time he hit the two-marker this was a victory parade. A performance as unimpeachable as this does not draw a visceral roar from those standing witness, but the climactic strides of this amazing Classic were played out to the soundtrack of thousands applauding because there was no better way to express both admiration for what we were watching and gratitude to be present on the day when the inner sanctum of the greats opened its ponderous doors to admit a new sensation.
We can leave it to the masters of ratings to quantify the undoubted enormity of what unfolded on the Heath yesterday. Pundits will draw fine distinctions and calculate things to an academic nicety. But to have been at Newmarket to see the performance and to join in the acclaim that greeted the revered Cecil and his crowning masterpiece that is this colt was to be part of something indelible and genuinely magical.
I cannot tell you what the future holds for Frankel but it would astonish me if the great days to come included a Derby or indeed any race over a mile and a half. But in a way I have not felt for years, I relish seeing this horse soar again on the racecourse for this trainer and jockey team and for the quiet architect that is Khalid Abdullah.
And over the whole mesmerising day stood the fragile colossus that is Henry Cecil.
I have always felt about this felicitous mix of the ruthless and the sensitive that we are indeed blessed to have shared his time and seen him reap the harvest of 25 Classics. And whatever stands to come for his trainer and this explosively brilliant colt we will, none of us, ever forget this satiating day God gave.
What the big names said on the day
Sir Peter O'Sullevan, legendary commentator
"Watching Frankel was just breathtaking and it was a spectacular performance. I can't remember another end-to-end Guineas win like that. It was so wise of Tom Queally not to restrain him; just hold him together and let him get on with it. It is not an orthodox way of winning the Guineas, but he was tactically absolutely correct to let things unfold and not to go out with any preconceptions."
Walter Swinburn, rider of Shergar
"Frankel was staggering and it was a prime example of his cruising speed being different to everything else in the race. Tom probably didn't realise he had them strung out that much because his cruising speed was much higher than the rest. I didn't realise how fast Shergar was going in the Derby, but he pulled the others out of their comfort zone so early, and Frankel did exactly the same thing."
Sheikh Mohammed, owner of Godolphin
"He is a great horse. We have not seen anything like that since Dubai Millennium won the Dubai World Cup. It was great to witness what he did today."
Willie Carson, rider of Nashwan
"It was quite amazing. He legged it for the whole race and his brilliance saw him through. We all thought that he had gone too fast, but he was just too good. If Dick Hern had trained him he would have said to let him use his stride and that's what they did."
Pat Eddery, won 2,000 Guineas on Lomond, El Gran Senor and Zafonic
"That was just awesome, and Frankel is exceptional. He is the best Guineas winner I've seen."
Paul Hanagan, champion jockey
"Watching the race in the weighing room our jaws were on the floor. It was unbelievable to watch and great for racing."
Jimmy Fortune, Classic-winning jockey
"To go that speed and keep going like that was unbelievable. Two out there was just a little feeling they would swallow him up, but he found another gear. He's a machine, and he wouldn't half win a July Cup."
Ed Dunlop, Classic-winning trainer
"That was spellbinding, and although we didn't win it was a pleasure to be here. It was amazing to have the confidence to ride him like that."
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