Can Frankel beat a mile?
IT is one of British racing’s oldest and most prestigious meetings, and even its name resonates with history. The Ebor meeting takes its name from Eboracum, the ancient Roman name of York, and on the Knavesmire this week, history could well be made when racing’s equine superstar Frankel bids to smash Rock of Gibraltar’s world record of seven consecutive Group One wins by a colt.
I am on record now as saying that Frankel is the greatest racehorse I’ve ever seen, but I must confess to a slight doubt about this latest instalment in his brilliant campaign plotted by trainer Sir Henry Cecil and owner Khaled Abdulla.
Frankel’s latest facile victory in the Sussex Stakes showed that he is still maturing, but does getting older mean that he will stay further? It usually does with class horses, but it is by no means a given.
For Frankel has yet to race beyond a mile, the distance over which he is supremely uncatchable, and the Juddmonte International will involve top class opposition trying to best him over more than a quarter of a mile further. Remember that the distance of the International is actually ten furlongs and 88 yards – almost half a furlong beyond what most experts consider to be Frankel’s maximum distance, and only 352 yards short of the Derby distance, for which Frankel was never seen as a likely contender.
The graveyard is full of the reputations of those who have doubted Cecil’s genius, but if there is a flaw in his plan for Frankel, it is that the trainer has admitted in the past that he does not really know for certain if the horse can stay beyond a mile.
Cecil is pretty sure that Frankel will stay, and so are the bookies – he was a mere seven to one ON with most layers yesterday.
His breeding – by Derby winner Galileo out of a Danehill mare, Kind – suggests he should get the trip, but the sheer blistering speed of Frankel has always indicated that middle distances would be beyond him.
The International sits between the mile and the Derby in distance, and it could even be the optimum trip for the horse rated officially as the best in the world.
More pertinently, Frankel will be facing serious opposition, especially if John Gosden’s Nathaniel takes his place in the race.
But then you look at the Official Rating set by the handicapper and see that even Gosden’s Coral-Eclipse winner is ranked a full stone behind Frankel.
For my money, Godolphin’s Farrh and Aidan O’Brien’s dual Coronation Cup and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner St Nicholas Abbey will be his toughest opponents. Yet Frankel cuffed Farrh by six lengths at Goodwood and St Nicholas Abbey is best at 12 furlongs – the five-year-old has not won at less than that distance for nearly three years.
Nevertheless, because of the distance this is the biggest test of Frankel’s young life, then, and if he is to break the Rock’s record he will need a well-judged race from jockey Tom Queally.
I see the race panning out as follows: pacemaking stablemate Bullet Train goes to the front and sets a steady but not fast gallop with Frankel held up to get the trip until they are in the home straight, when Queally will press the ‘go’ button and Frankel will swoop to conquer, leaving the rest not too far behind, with Farrh and St Nicholas Abbey taking the minor honours.
The rest of the Ebor meeting is by no means an undercard of second-class fare. The Coolmore Group One Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday will see Bated Breath try to confirm that he is indeed the highest class sprinter around, and I take him to do so.
The Betfred Ebor on Saturday has seen a big plunge on Motivado, trained by handicap specialist Sir Mark Prescott, who is as low as 4-1 in some places.
I think James Fanshawe’s High Jinx is better value at each-way, and is proven over the Ebor course and distance having finished second in last month’s John Smith’s Silver Cup.
The Fugue is fancied for the Group One Darley Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday, by which day we will know if Frankel has made history.
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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