Thursday, August 09, 2012
Diary, Day 17: Words Trumping Accomplishment Over There
August 8, 2012—I’m sure glad someone jumped into this fray because I thought I was the only one getting a wee bit tired of the notion that Frankel ranks among the best horses that ever lived.
Admittedly, I have not seen Frankel race in the flesh. But then that’s the best part of racing in this era isn’t it; the best horses in the world are a matter of keystrokes away. But I have seen all his races except two. This clearly is an extraordinarily gifted animal.
But before we elevate him into the ranks of all-time greats; the Phar Laps and Ribots, the Secretariats and Sea Birds, could we please ask him to run in races that take him out of his comfort zone before the anointing?
Or will owner Khalid Abdullah refuse entertain the idea of challenging this equine star?
Frankel undeniably is the perfect race horse, which is what you would expect from a horse that’s 12-for-12 in a three-year racing career.
Pardon my ugly America bias but I don’t think that record is even as impressive as Cigar’s, far from a perfect race horse but one that traveled far and wide, all over America and half way around the world to Dubai, taking 16 straight, of course.
And with a gun to my head, I don’t think he was as good at 10 furlongs as he was at nine. Frankel, of course, never has been beyond eight. Breeders covet speed and perfection, preferably from miler types.
That legacy is secure, but history’s reference demands a wider frame.
We know that Frankel is not a one course wonder, having won everything important that’s run at Ascot, Goodwood, Newmarket, Doncaster and Newbury. But finally he will be tested over a mile in the Juddmonte International.
It was Juddmonte Farms Ltd, that bred Frankel, and those chose this magnificent specimen to honor their prolific American trainer, the late Hall of Famer, Bobby Frankel. But it would have been embarrassing to skip the Juddmonte, don’t you think?
And even at that, Frankel is fortunate that the horse many believed would have been his most serious rival, the classy French runner Cirrus Des Aigles, will miss the race later this month with an ankle injury that will require a little more time to mend.
I’m told reliably that the Timeform people really know their horses and are not practiced in the art of hyperbole. I have no reason to believe that they are and the 142 rating he earned in the Queen Anne, while otherworldly for most runners is routine for this superstar; I get all that.
Now, should Frankel win the Juddmonte and challenge the ground and the distance of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, then we’d be getting somewhere.
When considering historical context I harbor one prejudice; dimension. Show me how many stones you can carry, show me the ability to act on any ground, at any distance, and I’ll build you a pantheon with my own two hands.
When I was a lad many years ago, the old-timers preached that great horses meet all challenges, are expected to overcome them, and no excuses are acceptable. Maybe they were guilty of hyperbole, too.
But I’m old enough now to establish my own criterion: I demand dimension. Hell, must Frankel’s greatness be defined at all costs that an honestly fast pace must be assured by a stablemate so that he can show us all how great he is?
This horse has an electric turn of foot, but can he look another in the eye and out-will him to the finish? Inquiring minds and true fans of the sport want to know this.
Now I have no hesitation calling dual Breeders’ Cup Milers Miesque, Lure and Da Hoss great milers—great turf milers. I’d be an idiot to say otherwise.
Goldikova, while a mile specialist, was great, too, but in another dimension in our view. Her greatness was transcendent, not limited by qualification. What a difference a three-peat makes.
The manner of those three Mile victories was unconfined by commonplace parameters. And they came in a foreign country many time and temperate zones from home at the end of a long season. Her courage, and that of her connections, was limitless.
I have no idea how much input trainer Sir Henry Cecil has in all this but Mr. Abdullah's apparent need for perfection has set limits by which his colt's faultlessness might be judged.
The colt’s future after his racing days end already are secure. Aren’t Frankel’s people the least bit interested about where the horse fits in the pantheon? Or are the press clippings enough and let history debate what is, and what might have been?