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By Tony Stafford
Ascot’s Qipco Champions day was good. So good in fact that like New York, Sunday morning’s web version of the Racing Post’s results page carried the results twice.
Not just in the results, but also the career records so that at 12.30 p.m., anyone making a cursory check would see that Frankel had raced 15 rather than 14 times. His career earnings were also inflated to the tune of an extra £737,000. If the BBC, those great lovers of horse racing, asked one of their minions to check, no doubt the wrong information would have been fed to the Johnny Come Lately’s who have recently come out of the woodwork to celebrate the Best of all time.
He is, and already was when winning the 2,000 Guineas last year in the manner he did. There’s been good horses and great horses but the best of my time, Sea Bird, Nijinsky, Dancing Brave, Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard, all suffered at least one loss. Ribot didn’t, but (a) he was Italian and (b) I saw him only on a 10 inch Sobell set in black and white and the impression he made has been forged from scholarly works by such as Tony Morris and John Randall.
Sobell tellys and the fact that Sir Michael’s daughter had that potential inheritance to anticipate probably encouraged Arnold, the future Lord Weinstock, in his ardour. That alliance, in time, helped him develop his electronics business into GEC and also the racing interests that Ela-Mana-Mou and Sun Princess among others helped enliven the 1980’s.
Khalid Abdullah has been around a long time. I remember in the early days at the Press Association/ Daily Telegraph the old PA’s chief racing reporter was an irascible Welshman called Dai Davies, the counterpart to and big mate of the Sporting Life’s Len Thomas.
One day K Abdullah had a winner somewhere in the south of England, Dai’s main sphere of activity. One of the other scions in the press pack – I can’t remember who – asked the fount what was his first name. “Dunno,” said the mighty Dai, “I always call him Ken!”
In those days “Ken’s” best horses were bought by James Delahooke, with Dancing Brave no doubt the best of them at that stage. Eventually, the stud operation, producing or more often buying classy mares became self-sustaining.
Interestingly, the buying bit has come back in a small way under Teddy (ne Beckett) now Grimthorpe, – so good they named him twice, too – while James Delahooke was seen trawling at the lower end of the last two weeks’ action at Newmarket sales, in concert with his old pal and Dancing Brave’s trainer Guy Harwood. Presumably, they were recruiting for Guy’s daughter Amanda Perrett’s stable in which horses carrying the yellow with a large capital “H” of the Harwoods Racing Club, have become more prominent.
Two elements of the Dancing Brave story were absent, in one case definitely, in the other possibly, but certainly on the day he sent out a winner last week. That was Pat Eddery, struggling with a declining string from the days just a few years back when Derrick Smith was a good supporter.
The other, Greville Starkey, is sadly no longer with us. His faux pas in the Derby when the Brave was a fast-finishing second paved the way to his post-Eclipse, well, eclipse in favour of Eddery. Having ….ed up at Epsom when I had four grand on, it was galling to see Greville so arrogant when landing the odds at Sandown. Ken must have been highly unamused because Pat stepped in from then on.
Nowadays Derrick Smith seems to get his very stylish purple and white colours on a goodly proportion of the best Magnier, Tabor, Smith animals, and it was him, with family and friends sporting the now de rigeur purple ties, who led the welcome to Excelebration, after he stepped (time for a cliché methinks) out of the lengthy shadow of Frankel to state his own case for semi-greatness in the QE II Mile.
Many doubt Joseph O’Brien’s right to ride such great animals. The general reaction to his defeat on Camelot in the St Leger was as unfair as it was vocal, even quite close to home, and as he searched apparently in vain for a seam in the last two furlongs on Saturday, the spears were being metaphorically sharpened again in the press and other expert minds among the 32,000 crowd.
But Long Joe simply waited. It helps when you know something, and there was an element of Insider Trading as Joseph knew he could wait “until the half furlong, if necessary”.
In the end, as at Doncaster, he got the run when needed, at the furlong and from there he was bounding away and completing each of the last three furlongs faster than Frankel, albeit that his frequent nemesis had to travel two extra furlongs.
Aidan was confident by all accounts, so much so that one lovely lady whom I know whose usual bet is reckoned to be £50 and who confesses to a maximum £200 when “I really fancy one”, stretched to £500 on Saturday. You could have been worried, as the gaps seemed destined never to materialise, but in reality this was money for old rope. Just a reminder, Joseph is 18, Hayley Turner, that promising “young” jockey, is pushing 30! He’s grown up so quickly and on Saturday showed he’s one of the true naturals.
Then it was Frankel. Everything that could have gone wrong did. He missed the break, lost contact with his pacemaker, hated the ground and was meeting a tough, battle-hardened star with stamina in abundance and a relish for the mud heap that was the Royal racecourse.
With Olivier Peslier in the saddle, Cirrus des Aigles was also guaranteed a perfect round and so it proved, Bullet Train’s rider Ian Mongan’s pace making duties being compromised by his team leader’s dilatory start.
When commentator Richard Hoiles called Frankel making his move and suggesting there was more to come, to a terrifying roar from all around, it looked to me a similar situation with the French gelding, but in the end speed and brilliance was enough to counter all-round competence.
The crowd went mad as the pair returned and it was fitting for two great seniors of the turf, “Ken” and our ‘Enery that their joint finest hours coincided at the time of on-going health issues. Bravery has been Henry’s watchword; loyalty, which he also carries in spades, is the owner’s most enduring quality. And then there was Tom Queally, quiet, reverential, and almost apologetic that he rather than one of the more obvious names in the weighing room, should have been privy to all 14 victories.
Plaudits will now go all around, to the next level, the work riders, and on down to the ladies who makes the tea for the Warren Place stable lads, and the seamstress who makes sure the Cecil family standard flies straight, true and freshly-ironed above Warren Place for the latest Group 1 triumph.
But when it comes down to it, Frankel did it all. It is true that he was fortunately in the right place to shape his career with a large portion of nurture. But it was nature that produced the great champion, the greatest of all from the herds over millions of years, and not least, from the fastest branch of that wonderful herd animal, the horse.