Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin/Goodtosoft.co.uk
Exiting stage right to the applause of thousands, Frankel retires a champion, an unbeaten one at that, after victory in the British Champions Stakes at Ascot saw a fourteenth victory for equine perfection.
They came in their droves, 32,000 of them to be exact, to see the final start by the sublime stature of equine perfection and they were not disappointed. Speculation had been rife in the hours leading up to the race that Frankel could, despite this being penned as his last start, be scratched due to the ground conditions. However, having inspected the course early, connections opted to run the undefeated four year old son of Galileo to the delight of his passionate following.
Ascot has been kind to Frankel in his career. The home of four of his previous victories, Ascot would play host to a fifth, and to one of his greatest triumphs. Breaking from the third stall for the very last time, Frankel and Tom Queally were slow out of the gates, allowing their rivals a three lengths head start. As Cirrus Des Aigles set his own pace up front, Ian Mongon dropped back aboard Bullet Train to ensure he provided Frankel with his ever familiar tow inside the initial furlongs. With Cirrus Des Aigles still sitting comfortably at the head of affairs, the field slingshot into the Ascot home straight with just under three furlongs to go. One by one the rivals came under pressure; Pastorius and Nathaniel both failed to find the finishing effort to reel in the lead of Cirrus Des Aigles, yet Frankel loomed ominously large on his outside, cantering towards him and getting closer with every stride.
As the roar of the Ascot grandstand occupants grew louder and louder than ever before, Frankel and Tom Queally drew alongside Cirrus Des Aigles and began to edge into the lead. These were not the ground conditions that Frankel thrived upon, yet a narrow one length superiority over his rival came quickly. Frankel had edged into lead with nothing in his favour and had passed the post in front, victorious, and released the overbearing emotions of 32,000 people. Cheers, tears and roars; they all came and they didn't stop until the champion exited the parade ring for the final time. As Frankel passed the post, Tom Queally gave his friend and team mate a pat and flicked his whip in the air. They had done it.
"He was labouring on the ground and not happy on it but he was very relaxed throughout" said Sir Henry Cecil, for whom Frankel has reigned supreme throughout his entire career, "In the end, he had plenty in hand. I cannot believe in the history of racing that there has ever been a better racehorse. He's the best I've ever trained, the best I've ever seen, I don't think we'll ever see a better one"
With Prince Khalid Abdulla about to announce the confirmed retirement of Frankel to the awaiting fans and press, Lord Grimthorpe took time to speak to the press to sum up Frankel's outstanding performance in the QIPCO British Champions Stakes. "He got into a rhythm, he was happy, he wasn't pulling and he was just straightforward. He had a trouble free passage and it always looked like he was going to win. He had it under control, but that is him" said Grimthorpe, "This [reaction] is the greatest...for the greatest, isn't it? He is the greatest isn't he? He's brought a whole new generation of people to the sport, brought a wider public recognition to the sport and he's given them something to really savour. He's the ultimate equine athlete".
Equine perfection deserves special recognition. Whilst the press scrambled for their quotes and the fans cheered emphatically, Frankel continued his lap of honour around the parade ring to the backdrop of a montage of his racing victories on the big screens. Once, twice and then exiting, he would exit a star, a sublime example of the perfection that British racing has enjoyed for three scintillating years, one summed up beautifully by Tom Queally, who has been aboard on all fourteen of Frankel's perfect fourteen victories.
"I walked the track and I was a bit worried about the conditions - you want every angle covered and everything in your favour. From that respect, there is always a little worry, but he was in great heart today and he looked a lot better than this day 12 months ago. He's just got a bit too relaxed and he's slept in the stalls, it used to be the other way" said Queally, "It's the biggest chapter in my life coming to a close. It's so wonderful that it's happened, it's unbelievable. Sir Henry [Cecil] has had some great jockeys and for me to be there at the right time following some of the greats, it's amazing. There was a bigger crowd at Royal Ascot, but it was more intense today, like something waiting to explode. I don't know what would've happened if we didn't win. We'll never see another like him. I went all the way down to the furlong pole after the finish just so I could enjoy the moment and stay on his back for just a little longer".
Thank you Frankel, thank you for fourteen exciting, unbelievable moments on the racecourse that I will never forget.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)