Who says connections of Frankel are unprepared to travel in order to prove their horse’s supremacy over every other horse on the planet? He will turn up at York on Wednesday, and York is a lot further North than most equine, or human, bluebloods go in the normal run of things.
“Good things” do get turned over from time to time, however. Sea-Bird (rated 145) was beaten once as a two-year-old; Brigadier Gerard (rated 144), was beaten once (of which, more later) in 18 starts; and Secretariat (probably better than both the aforementioned on his day) tasted defeat four times in 21 outings.
So, what could be the undoing of Frankel? Here are a few of the possibilities:
He could get beaten by a better horse. No. Make no mistake, St Nicholas Abbey and Farhh– easily Frankel’s best opponents of those likely to turn up- are no mugs. St Nicholas Abbey has won a Breeders’ Cup Turf as well as two Coronation Cups, while Farhh has been second or third in Group 1s on his last three starts, and both are rated 130. But 147-rated Frankel is in a different league and slammed Farhh in the Sussex Stakes last time while barely breaking sweat. Frankel, at his best, would not be beaten by any other horse around at the moment and would be troubled by very few horses in history as well.
He could fail to stay. Possibly. Frankel has raced only at seven furlongs and a mile. We know from sectionals that he has top-class sprinting speed, we do not know that he has the stamina for an extended ten furlongs. Then again, his full-brother Noble Mission recently won at even further and the once-headstrong Frankel has settled better of late. It is also possible that Frankel could “fail to stay” and still win. I would define “stay” as “the ability to show form at, or near, one’s best at a given distance”. I have generally taken “near” as meaning within 5 lb of a horse’s peak at the time. Frankel has 17 lb and more in hand of his rivals. Interestingly (to me, at least), I did a study of how far horses perform below their peak as distance differs from that peak. A mature Flat horse typically underperforms by 15 lb at distances that are 30% greater than its defined year peak. 30% is the added distance between Frankel’s Royal Ascot win in the Queen Anne Stakes and the International. Then again, we do not know that Ascot was Frankel’s peak. He could be even better at York. Scary!
He could be undone by the going. Unlikely. Frankel has won on ground described by Timeform as good to firm through to soft, though the latter was on his debut. A downpour could make him vulnerable, but mostly because it would be likely to increase the emphasis on stamina (see above).
His stable could be out of form. I don’t think so. As I write this before racing on Thursday, Sir Henry Cecil has had 16 consecutive losers, but they have included seven second-placings. The horses are running well without running brilliantly. Frankel has had just three weeks to go off the boil since his Goodwood cakewalk.
He could be the victim of jockey error. Possibly. That’s not to be critical of jockey Tom Queally, who has been immaculate in his handling of Frankel in most races and possesses the proverbial nerves of steel. But tactics of “sit for four furlongs then destroy rivals” will have to be adapted to different circumstances at York. Queally did get things wrong on Frankel at Royal Ascot as a three-year-old but the horse was good enough to win anyway. Rather him than me (me carrying several stones of overweight, that is!).
Force majeure? Let’s hope not. There have been 20 earthquakes of 4.0 or greater magnitude in Britain since 1970, but none anywhere near York. Volcanic activity was last recorded in the area around 60 million years ago, while significant asteroid impacts are very few and far between. Still, who knows what strings Godolphin and Coolmore can pull?…
Bee sting? Possibly. The story that Roberto was stung into action by a bee when inflicting Brigadier Gerard’s only defeat, in the first running of what became this race in 1972, seems to be apocryphal. Nonetheless, it may just pay to keep an eye on insect activity in the preliminaries. Just in case.
3. More daylight