There’s plenty to look forward to in York’s May meeting, with the Musidora and Dante Stakes, trials for the Oaks and Derby respectively. But for many people, Saturday’s Lockinge Stakes will be the highlight of the week, with the reappearance of Frankel for his first race as a four year old.
It’s rare for a horse of Frankel’s ability to race on after such a glittering Classic season, so owner Khalid Abdullah has taken a purely sporting decision in keeping him in training. After all, bloodstock agents had valued him at £100m last season, and at stud he could easily cover 100 mares a season at £50,000 a go.
So why has Abdullah brought him back? Frankel is the best horse in the world at the moment, but is he the best horse ever to race? Many think so, but according to Timeform he’s a little way to go before he can be given that accolade. And the people at Timeform think he is the best, as Jamie Lynch from the organisation makes clear. “Everybody here, young and old, think he’s the best we’ve ever seen.” So why is it that Frankel’s Timeform rating of 143 has him in fourth place, behind Sea Bird on 145, and Brigadier Gerard and Tudor Minstrel on 144?
The answer lies in how a Timeform rating is awarded. A Timeform rating represents "the merit of the horse expressed in pounds and is arrived at by careful examination of its running against other horses using a scale of weight for distance beaten which ranges from around 3 lb a length at five furlongs and 2 lb a length at a mile and a quarter to 1 lb a length at two miles".
The critical phrase is “its running against other horses”. If Frankel is so far ahead of his contemporaries that he’s hardly given a race, it will be difficult for Timeform to increase his rating. As Lynch puts it, “The problem is, it could be more about his opportunities than his ability. And he’s going to need some help from his contemporaries if he’s going to get that figure. The good news is that there’s some top class horses out there who could allow him to express his true ability.”
Those horses include Black Caviar (136), trained in Australia by Peter Moody, but it’s become quite clear that a meeting between Frankel and the mare is highly unlikely. Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for Khalid Abdullah confirmed this again over the weekend. He said, “Funnily enough I saw Peter Moody in Hong Kong the other day and we joked about it. I think both camps understand the desire to see the two great champions clash, but, in reality, Black Caviar’s programme looks like it’s going to revolve around five to seven furlongs, whereas our programme at the moment is between eight and 10. You can’t be all things to all people.”
Third in the current rankings are Irish and French trainer horses, Aidan O’Brien’s Excelebration and Corine Brande-Barbe’s Cirrus des Aigles, both on 133. Lynch says “If Frankel beats any of those good horses this year by five or six lengths. That will take him into realms that no horse has ever been to in Timeform’s history.”
And Excelebration is a confirmed runner for the Lockinge, so there’s a chance that by teatime on Saturday Frankel will be Timeform’s highest ever rated horse on the flat. And if not, there will be opportunities at Royal Ascot, and then perhaps a step up to 10 furlongs for the Eclipse at Sandown, the international at York, and the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October.
If Frankel doesn’t have that Timeform top rating by then, Abdullah will have given us lots to enjoy during a season of trying, and we’ll be left with the third kind of lie, statistics, hiding the truth.