Frankel looks likely to face only a handful of rivals again when he steps up to 10 furlongs in the Juddmonte international at York next week.
Ten horses were left in the field at the six day declarations, but the news soon followed that second favourite in the race, the John Gosden trained Nathaniel was extremely unlikely to take his place on Wednesday on account of the fast ground. James, Wigan, racing manager to Lady Rothschild, who owns Nathaniel said at Salisbury yesterday. “I would think it’s unlikely we will run Nathaniel at York, certainly less than 50-50. I would say that on fast ground I couldn’t see us beating Frankel. It would take a lot of rain to make us change our plan. We won’t run him on fast ground.”
It isn’t that there’s a problem in Nathaniel running on fast ground per se, just against tackling Frankel in those conditions, as Wigan made clear when flagging up the Irish Champion stakes as Nathaniel’s next race. He said, “If we decide to miss York the ground wouldn’t matter in Ireland. Frankel is an exceptional horse, and he’s not going there.”
That takes us down to eight other runners, and as one of those is Frankel’s regular pacemaker Bullet Train, we’re really down to seven. Last year’s winner Twice Over, also in Henry Cecil’s yard, will run, but the participation of Farhh and Sri Putra is very much in the air, and if they both miss out, there will be a maximum of five horses taking on Frankel.
Three of those are in the Aidan O’Brien stable, and whilst it is pretty certain St Nicholas Abbey will line up, O’Brien hadn’t decided which of Robin Hood and Windsor Palace would stand their ground. It could be both of them.
Even Planteur, who Marco Botti wants to run, may yet pull out. Botti said, "As long as we have safe ground he’ll run. If it’s firm, he won’t. If it’s good to firm (as it is at the moment) we’ll think about it – we scratched him last time at York because we felt the ground was too quick for him.”
Potentially then, Frankel could line up against just four other horses, one of them his own pacemaker, and another effectively carrying out that role for St Nicholas Abbey.
And yet, for once, Frankel could be a real betting proposition. The race immediately before the International is the Great Voltigeur Stakes, for which Frankel’s full brother, Noble Mission is joint third favourite at 5/1. Put the two in a double and you’ll get odds of around 11/2. Ladbrokes, however, have come up with a novelty bet in their racing specials section. You can get odds of 10/1 for the two brothers to win.
If Frankel is as near a certainty as there is in racing, they are effectively offering almost 10/1 about a horse that is 5/1 in their race book. That’s probably good value, and even if you don’t think Noble Mission will win, you could take that bet and then laying it off once Betfair put up their prices on the Voltigeur.