Article Date: 11-June-2012
Blake’s Blog: Frankely Frustrating
They say you can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you’ll never please all of the people all of the time, and that is certainly the case with flat racing at the moment.
Not only could Camelot and Black Caviar potentially be two of the best to have looked through a bridle in decades, we already have one of the greats to savour in the powerful shape of Frankel. Sir Henry Cecil’s colt is already rated in the upper echelons of the all-time ranks, but it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are incredibly lucky to see this colt on the racecourse as a four-year-old.
After all, if Khalid Abdullah had made the decision that 99.9% of owners in his position would have and retired Frankel at the conclusion of his three-year-old year, right now the son of Galileo would theoretically have earned over £10 million in stud fees. To put aside that eye-watering financial gain, as well as take the ever-present risks of serious injury associated with racing to keep Frankel in training has to rank up there as one of the most sporting decisions in the history of the sport.
Yet, there still seem to be plenty of racing fans out there who aren’t happy. Not content with seeing this incredible horse strut his stuff, many have accused Sir Henry Cecil of a lack of adventure in his campaigning of the horse, suggesting that he should embrace new challenges such as dropping to seven furlongs to face Black Caviar.
Cecil has been very tolerant of such comment, as he was when much the same voices were making a similarly questionable case for Frankel to run in the Epsom Derby last year, but his frustrations got the better of him on Racing UK last weekend, with him dismissing the prospect of Frankel ever facing Black Caviar as “stupid”. While it was a surprising choice of words from Cecil, this corner certainly couldn’t blame him.
Frankel has been a very difficult horse to train due to his free-going tendencies and Cecil has arguably performed the greatest training feat of his long career to only recently get the better of him and make him tractable. The main ambition for Cecil and Abdullah in keeping Frankel in training was to win the Juddmonte International over an extended 10 furlongs at York in August and while this goal is seemingly not adventurous enough for some, it is a very risky option for a horse who has shown such hard-pulling tendencies and is clearly a natural miler. For anyone to seriously suggest that Cecil would jeopardise this ultimate goal by dropping him to seven furlongs to face a speed machine like Black Caviar, potentially undoing all the progress that has been made in settling the horse was, as Cecil succinctly put it himself, stupid.
While we all want to see top horses tested to find the ceiling of their ability, the fact that Frankel is so far clear of his peers means that the test is always most likely to come against himself and his previous standards. Thankfully, in contrast with so many Champions in the past, Frankel runs to the line and shows the full extent of what he can do every time he runs, thus removing the need to run him over unsuitable trips to test him and, for this corner at least, making each and every one of his starts very exciting.
As was discussed in this blog last month, there is strong reason to believe that the best could still be to come from Frankel. So, rather than quibbling, why not just enjoy and celebrate the prospect of this once-in-a-lifetime horse raising the bar of equine excellence which has been established over the course of the 300-year history of the thoroughbred breed by producing a career-best effort under what should be optimum conditions at Royal Ascot on Tuesday, June 19th? I know I will.
Caviar Connections Commended
Frankel may be officially the best horse in the world, but next week at Royal Ascot, it is the horse ranked second best on the planet, the Australian sensation Black Caviar, who is certain to generate the most worldwide media attention.
An old Irish saying goes “if size had anything to do with speed, a cow would outrun a rabbit”, but Black Caviar clearly didn’t read that script. A colossal mare who reportedly tips the scales at 575kg (the imposing chaser Denman reportedly weighed 565kg in his prime), she is unbeaten in 21 races and is officially the best sprinter in the world. Indeed, some suggest that she could well be the best mare ever to race.
Thanks to her remarkably sporting connections, Europe will get its first and possibly only chance to see this incredible mare in action in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday 23rd June and it will truly be an international occasion to savour.
While Europeans may have become accustomed to greeting Australian sprinters at Royal Ascot in the last decade, this mare is a different kettle of fish altogether and it is worth emphasising just how commendable the decision to bring Black Caviar to Royal Ascot is.
British racing has many problems, but the fact that Black Caviar is turning up at Royal Ascot is a testament to the fact that, despite the financial mess their industry is in, the history and prestige associated with their top-class meetings is still valued and indeed envied by most racing nations. Such is this enduring appeal that it has led to Black Caviar’s connections sending her over to Britain despite the fact that it makes very little sense in economic, logistical or indeed racing terms.
After all, the alternative for Black Caviar’s connections was to keep her at home, where she is universally adored by racing and the mainstream alike, running for far superior prize money than is available at Royal Ascot and doing so without the risks associated with intercontinental travel and running on an unfamiliar inclined track.
Another factor that hasn’t been widely highlighted is that, if she had remained in Australia, Black Caviar would almost certainly be on a winter break at the moment and looking at pictures of her at Newmarket in recent days, one can’t help but notice that she is looking noticeably wooly in her coat.
As well as all of that, her connections have also taken the more difficult of the two Royal Ascot options in running her in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes over six furlongs which Australian raiders only have an average record in (one win from nine runners) as opposed to the King’s Stand Stakes over five that the Australians have an excellent record in (four winners from 14 runners).
While the financial stakes are not nearly as high as with Frankel, the decision to bring Black Caviar to Royal Ascot to run in the Diamond Jubilee is incredibly sporting and despite the fact that she won’t be a betting proposition for most at such a short price, such adventure deserves the respect and support of all racing fans.
Aidan O’Brien’s Two-Year-Olds at Royal Ascot
As readers of this blog will have discovered in recent weeks, I am fond of a bit of statistical analysis and, with Royal Ascot just around the corner, it is worth discussing a subject that is always a hot topic during Royal Ascot: Aidan O’Brien’s two-year-olds.
As with all statistics, they can be interpreted in any number of ways, but I feel that these particular numbers may reveal something of a changing policy in Ballydoyle.
From 2001 to 2010, Aidan O’Brien saddled 45 juveniles at Royal Ascot, yielding just four winners, namely: Landseer (2001), Johannesburg (2001), Statue Of Liberty (2002) and Henrythenavigator (2007). With the exception of Statue Of Liberty, who was beaten a head in the Sussex Stakes, the others went on to win at Group 1 level subsequently.
Of the 41 of those O’Brien-trained juveniles who were beaten, no less than nine went on to win at Group 1 level, namely Rock Of Gibraltar, Sophisticat, Spartacus, Oratorio, Rumplestiltskin, Holy Roman Emperor, Lillie Langtry, Beethoven and Zoffany.
So, why is it that Aidan O’Brien saddled so few winning juveniles at the Royal meeting from 2001 to 2010, despite regularly bringing over high-class colts and fillies? My theory is that, despite them obviously being forward enough to run at such an early stage of their careers, O’Brien takes a longer term view than some trainers and doesn’t put the proverbial gun to their heads so early, thus many of them get found out for a lack of experience against rivals for whom Royal Ascot is possibly the main target of the season.
However, last year seemed to mark a change of policy. O’Brien sent an unusually small team of juveniles to Royal Ascot, with just Power and Maybe representing him. As it transpired, both were forward enough to win their respective races and indeed talented enough to go on to win at Group 1 level as juveniles.
Perhaps O’Brien is making a conscious decision to be more selective with those juveniles that he targets at Royal Ascot, selecting only his most forward and talented individuals? At the time of writing, he has saddled four juvenile winners thus far this season and while all four appeal as being Royal Ascot types, it will be interesting to see how many he sends over. For me, the pick of them and indeed, all of the two-year-olds that have run in Ireland thus far this season, is Cristoforo Colombo and it wouldn’t surprise to see him emulate his sire Henrythenavigator by winning the Coventry Stakes.
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