Frankel’s TV advert is no match for a Saturday Ebor at York
Sir Henry Cecil’s colt will make his penultimate appearance in the Juddmonte International but the crowd will not be the biggest of the meeting at the Knavesmire
Frankel recorded another first over the weekend to go with the 12 victories on his perfect racing record. Sir Henry Cecil’s colt was the star of a 20-second commercial which aired in a variety of slots, including the evening peak, in the Yorkshire TV region, to advertise his appearance in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York on Wednesday afternoon. While race meetings have been promoted via TV ads before, the appearance of an individual horse has not.
What will probably be the penultimate run of Frankel’s racing career might seem an odd time to launch a new marketing strategy but then time is running out to make the most of him. Assuming that a trip to next month’s Prix du Moulin at Longchamp – where the crowd would be pitiful in any case – is unlikely to materialise, Frankel will spend four and a half minutes between now and retirement doing his stuff in front of a paying audience. This is not the last chance for racing fans to see Frankel in the flesh but for those based in the North it is almost certainly the best.
Since Frankel puts numbers on the gate wherever he goes these days it will be difficult to quantify the effect of the TV ads on Wednesday’s attendance. It will be hard to say, too, how many of those at York are Frankel “first-timers”, eager to see him racing before he goes to stud, and how many are veteran fans, willing to follow him wherever he goes.
One point which does bear consideration, though, is that while Wednesday’s crowd seems certain to be a significant advance on the 20,000 or so who turned up for the same day 12 months ago, it is unlikely to be the best of the week now that the Ebor has shifted to Saturday, never mind a match for the 40,000 who regularly head to the Knavesmire for John Smith’s Cup day in July.
It was a broadly similar story at Royal Ascot, where Frankel also raced on the first day of the meeting. The crowd on the opening day was up and included perhaps two or three thousand who switched from another day at the meeting but the headline figure was still no match for the attendance on any of the final three days of the meeting. Nor will the gate for his final start, at Ascot’s Champions Day in October, even approach the 77,000 who went to the same track to see Black Caviar win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on the Saturday of the Royal meeting.
A few of the more persistent critics of racing’s attempts to broaden its audience may see this as a sign of failure and that the sport has “missed a trick” in communicating – and selling – Frankel’s brilliance, and the joys of horse racing, to the wider world.
It will, of course, mean nothing of the kind, because no individual horse, no matter how exceptional, can win a battle like that all by himself. Horses, like trainers and jockeys, come and go. It is the competitiveness and excitement of racing as a whole, from one day, season and year to the next that sell it in the end, whether the customers doing the buying are owners, racegoers or punters in betting shops. And the overall attendance figures suggest that the general demand for British racing is already holding up remarkably well given the current economic gloom.
What Frankel has done is to prove, like other outstanding performers before him, that the quest for equine brilliance, through countless generations of selective breeding and careful nurture, is never a hopeless one. But the search for the next outstanding racehorse is an end in itself and almost as much fun as the moment of discovery.
It is something to bear in mind as we approach the end of Frankel’s racing career and look forward to his sons and daughters being part of the quest for the next great champion.