Article Date: 20-June-2012
Blake’s Blog: Will Frankel the Great set a precedent?
Well, there you have it. Ever since the foundations of the thoroughbred breed were laid back in the late 1600s by the Byerley Turk, humans have strived to selectively breed these incredible animals for speed, stamina and brilliance.
On Tuesday at Royal Ascot, the bar of equine excellence was raised to an all-time high by Frankel’s show stealing 11 lengths domination in the Queen Anne Stakes. Such a statement may seem almost hyperbolic, but make no mistake, it is fully justified.
Frankel’s reappearance in the Lockinge Stakes suggested that the best was still to come from him and that very much proved to be the case on Tuesday. While his 1/10 price tag may have suggested that a straightforward win was on the cards, his performance exceeded that of even his most ebullient supporters.
For the first time in a long time, Frankel was covered up on all sides by rival runners and whilst a less mature Frankel may have been fired up by this, the now complete racing machine settled admirably well in such tight quarters.
The connections of Excelebration, so often a victim of Frankel’s brilliance, gamely asked him to race more forwardly and put it up to Frankel earlier than he had in the past, but he ultimately paid the price for trying to match strides with Frankel and had no more to give in the final furlong.
The manner in which Frankel powered right away from his opposition was just as thrilling for hardened racing fans as it was for the casual observer and it was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he had lost a shoe early in the race.
We have seen spectacular wide-margin wins in Group 1s in the past, but unlike the romps of Hawk Wing in the Lockinge Stakes or Harbinger in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes, there isn’t even a hint of “too good to be true” about this performance. This is the real deal and the prospect of seeing him three or possibly even four more times this season is immensely exciting.
In terms of wider influence that this remarkable horse may have on the sport, perhaps the admirably brave decision of Prince Khalid Abdullah to keep Frankel in training as a four-year-old will set a precedent amongst stallion masters and breeders.
Frankel seemingly had nothing left to prove at the conclusion of his brilliant three-year-old campaign, but in just two starts as a four-year-old he has raised his already blue-chip stock to a significantly higher level. Not only has his rating improved significantly, but any concerns surrounding his temperament and free-going nature have been quickly dispelled, thus further increasing his desirability and value as a stallion.
As understandable and inevitable as the retirement of Sea The Stars seemed at the time, in light of Frankel’s exploits, one can’t help but look back with a tinge of regret that he wasn’t given the opportunity to consolidate and grow his legacy as a four-year-old. With this in mind, will breeders and the racing public alike now have increased expectations for top-class three-year-olds to return as four-year-olds to confirm not only their talent, but their temperament and constitution too?
Flat racing puts great emphasis on the Classics and becoming the best of a generation, but, really, there tends to only be so much that a three-year-old can achieve in terms of ratings against his own age group or against his elders with the help of a weight-for-age allowance. Perhaps the emphasis should be put on a four-year-old campaign, which offers the opportunity to take on the best of several generations off level weights and to perhaps try to give weight away to the pick of the three-year-olds, as well as proving lasting physical and mental soundness?
While it is unlikely to catch on in the world of commercial speed stallions, where it has become something of a trend for the fastest two-year-old colts to be retired without even having raced as three-year-olds, it may not be such a fanciful thought for middle-distance horses. The theory is likely to be put to the test at the end of this year, with the potential Triple Crown champion Camelot appealing as being an ideal candidate to return as a four-year-old. As the clock at the Curragh assures us, “Time Discloses All”.
Jim Bolger did it again! He said Dawn Approach was as good as any two-year-old he had trained and the son of New Approach - another Bolger graduate - justified that view by winning what appeals as being an above-average Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.
What Bolger does with his two-year-olds is remarkable. He takes colts and fillies who are bred to excel as three-year-olds and, whatever conditioning methods he uses, he prepares them to not only run at a much earlier stage of their two-year-old campaigns than would be expected, but to win at a high level at a comparitive early stage too.
The Group 1-winning juvenile campaigns of stoutly-bred colts such as Teofilo, New Approach and Parish Hall were deeply impressive, but preparing a daughter of Galileo (Cuis Ghaire) and a son of New Approach (Dawn Approach) to win six-furlong Group races for two-year-olds at Royal Ascot is simply remarkable.
As well as his professional achievements, Jim’s character sets him apart from the pack. While he earned a reputation as the hardest of taskmasters over the course of his career, one gets the impression that he has mellowed somewhat in the aftermath of the lucrative successes of Teofilo and New Approach and, for this corner at least, he is now the single most entertaining interviewee in Flat racing
His wit was very much on show at Leopardstown last week when David Duggan of At The Races asked him on air whether he had his top hat and tails dusted down and ready for Royal Ascot?
Bolger, with a glint in his eye, dryly replied: “Well, there’s no dust in our place ...”
In the June 9th edition of The Irish Field, there was a very good letter published from John Lynam which questioned the accuracy of the official times at Naas on June 4th. I can very much relate to Lynam’s frustration, as during my time with Timeform, the issue of inaccurate and nonsensical official times at many Irish tracks regularly raised its head. However, it was the response to Lynam’s letter from Tom Ryan of Naas Racecourse that caught my eye.
Several theories were put forward as to why the race times were so much faster than seemed plausible such as the ground, pace and field size, but there is no doubt whatsoever that the main reason behind the eye-catching times was that, as Ryan revealed, the running rail had been moved to allow fresher ground to be used, shortening the race distance by 18 yards.
While 18 yards may not sound like a lot to some, it is hugely significant in a sport that deals in margins of short-heads and differences in time of one hundreds of a second. There are a large number of professional and non-professional analysts who put great emphasis on times in their study of the sport and inaccurate distances play havoc with such analysis, not to mention leading to false information being recorded in the official formbook.
There was a particularly memorable case in the not-too-distant past where a high-profile British journalist made a bullish case against a leading Irish contender in a Group 1 race in Britain based on what he thought was a very poor time that the horse in question recorded in his prep race at a Group 1 track in Ireland, only for it to be pointed out to him subsequently that the official time was over two seconds (12 lengths plus) slower than hand timing suggested it actually was.
As Ryan pointed out, racecourses are protected in this regard by the fact that all of the official distances in Irish racing are prefaced by the word “about”, which allows them to alter running rails and adjust the position of the starting stalls as they see fit.
These adjustments are generally to ensure the best racing surface is used and no one would suggest that they shouldn’t be undertaken, but it surely isn’t too much to ask that the racecourses reveal their intentions in this regard prior to racing to prevent the aforementioned problems?
Precious few Irish racecourses do this, yet the vast majority of the racecourses in Britain do it, with the relevant information being published in full in advance of each meeting on the “Going” section of the British Horseracing Authority website.
As has been previously mentioned on this blog, there is a disappointingly lax attitude amongst many Irish racecourses with regard to passing on important racing-relevant information to the public. While the situation is improving, with the Curragh, Fairyhouse and Leopardstown amongst others having made improvements by issuing more regular and detailed ground/weather/track updates of late, many racecourses are still lagging behind and the drum will continue to be banged until they are all up to a standard that is expected in this day and age.
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