Frankel lands dramatic Champion Stakes
Saturday 20 October 2012
1 Frankel (T Queally) 2-11 Fav
2 Cirrus Des Aigles (O Peslier) 9-2
3 Nathaniel (W Buick) 9-1
By Geoffrey Riddle
Frankel confirmed his status as the world’s best racehorse with a dramatic victory in the Qipco British Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.
In what was considered to be his toughest assignment of all his 14 career starts, he passed the searing examination, but only just.
As the world watched the gates open, only five horses emerged with Tom Queally and Frankel left for a moment in the gates. The 28-year-old jockey kept his cool and recovered sufficiently to join Cirrus Des Aigles at the furlong pole where the two-highest rated horses settled down to fight it out before Frankel prevailed by a length and a quarter. Nathaniel was two and half lengths back in third.
"I am so proud of him, he is a horse of a lifetime and we have been on an amazing journey," Queally said.
"Under the circumstances and with the conditions the way they were we decided we wouldn’t produce him until we really had to. I had to give him a kick, which I don’t usually have to but when I did the power kicked in, it was like a 4x4, the engine started going," the Irishman added.
Frankel needed to beat Cirrus Des Aigles by at least six lengths to eclipse the legendary figure of 141 set by Dancing Brave when he won the 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He remains now on an official rating of 140 perch alongside Alleged, the dual Prix de l’Arc de Triopmhe victor, and Shergar, the English Derby winner. His rating will be ratified by a meeting of handicappers in Hong Kong in December.
"I cannot believe in the history of racing that there has ever been a better racehorse," Sir Henry Cecil said. "I have enjoyed every moment of training him, although it has been slightly stressful at times. He's the best I have ever had and the best I have ever seen."
Owner Prince Khalid Abdullah confirmed that Frankel had run his final race, and after 14 races unbeaten the four-year-old will be retired to Juddmonte Farms.
Never before had Frankel met horses of the calibre of Cirrus Des Aigles and Nathaniel, who were officially rated 130 and 126 respectively.
By defeating 20 Group One winners prior to the Champion Stakes that had accumulated 45 victories at the highest level, Frankel had claimed scalps of horses on the up. Here, however, he faced two rivals that were brilliant in the present and official ratings suggested they were the second and fourth best horses in the world.
All but one of Frankel’s nine Group One victories had come on tracks with finishing straights of half a mile or more, whereas on the round course this time his incredibly long stride had little room to stretch out. It never really mattered.
"In the end, he had plenty in hand," Cecil added. "He was labouring on the ground and was not happy on it but he was very relaxed throughout. I have probably got him too relaxed - it used to be the other way around."
As Frankel fell out of the gate, Cirrus Des Aigles duelled with Bullet Train for the lead, while Queally had to make up ground in Nathaniel's slipstream.
Turning into the Ascot straight where the going was slightly better than on the round course, Frankel picked up and began to stalk Cirrus Des Aigles.
For a split second it looked as if Cirrus Des Aigles may hold on, but Frankel's raking stride ate up the ground to draw level with a furlong to go after he passed Nathaniel and William Buick. For a moment the pair were locked together, but Queally got serious for the first time and his mount drew away.
"It was a career defining performance," Lord Grimthorpe said. "We were always pretty confident he was going to do what he does best and he eventually put the race to bed. He was a champion at two, a champion at three and four and if you haven't made your mind up about him now then you never will."
Ascot had sold-out and despite increasing the capacity the royal racecourse sold out again to 32,348 in the build-up to the race.
The Queen had accepted her invitation and alongside Great Britain London 2012 Equestrian medal winners such as Zara Phillips, William Fox-Pitt, and Charlotte Dujardin, and a wide-range of celebrities including Ant and Dec, Bryan Ferry and Nigel Havers all braved the traffic to catch one final glimpse of the celebrated thoroughbred.
It had been touch and go earlier in the day, however, whether Frankel would run at all after six millimetres of rain fell at Ascot on Friday, leaving heavy patches on the round course and soft ground up the straight.
Such was the state of the going on the round course that Jamie Spencer described it as "very bad" after riding Fame And Glory in the opening Qipco Long Distance Cup.
Grimthorpe and Queally had walked the course personally and the pair gave the green light in the morning but cautioned that there was no such thing as a “gimmie” at Group One level.
"I walked the track and was a little bit worried about the conditions, but having walked the home straight I knew it wasn't too heavy for him to quicken up, go about his business and win," Queally said.
Corine Barande-Barbe was delighted with Cirrus Des Aigles effort to eb runner-up and thought for a moment she might have achieved the impossible.
"I heard that the British public were worried that we could beat him, and I thought during the race that maybe we might. There is no disgrace in losing to Frankel though."
Olivier Peslier also felt that he might be able to hold off the champion, much like he had kept Orfevre at arms length in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe fortnight ago.
"He went very well with two furlongs to go and I thought we have a chance to make him fight. I thought Cirus Des Aigles fought very well."