- ESPN Sports Personality of the Year - No. 9
Frankel: The Untouchable
The past 12 months have thrown up a catalogue of memorable performances, including golden Olympic moments, acts of golfing greatness and more than the odd piece of heroism on a bike. Leading up to Christmas, ESPN will name its top 10 sports personalities of the year in ascending order...
Mister Ed and Champion The Wonder Horse are high up the equine pecking order, but you get the impression that if they had met Frankel in 2012 they would have been chewed up and spat out.
Frankel began 2012 with some wondering whether he could repeat the brilliance of his Classic campaign. He ended it unbeaten in 14 career starts, an official rating of 140 and career earnings of a smidge under £3 million.
As 12 months ago, Sir Henry Cecil set his star loose for his seasonal bow at Newbury. It was a Group One test over a mile and it went according to script, as he tracked his pacemaker for the first half of the race before skipping clear for a facile success. It brought a huge sigh of relief to the Frankel camp as the colt's career was in the balance a couple of months earlier on account of an injury picked up on the gallops.
"His first race is never his best but we had to bring him here as he needed a race before Ascot and he has done it very easily," a delighted and relieved Cecil said. "He is stronger this year and Tom (Queally, jockey) said his acceleration is incredible."
Excelebration, the second best thoroughbred over a mile, got within five lengths of Frankel at Newbury. That was as close as he was to get, as Frankel's second outing of the season was a display that had to be seen to be believed.
Royal Ascot in June saw Frankel pitch up for the Queen Anne Stakes. It's the highlight of the first half of the season for milers. It has been won by some greats down the years, Warning, Barathea, Dubai Destination to name but three, and Frankel added his name to that stellar cast list - and how.
Having been put in his place by trying to take on Frankel late in the Lockinge, the Excelebration camp changed tactics and attempted to eyeball Frankel some way out. It only served to get Frankel racing earlier than normal and it resulted in a bigger margin of victory.
As Tom Queally asked Frankel to lengthen at the three-furlong pole, the acceleration was stunning. He quickened again heading inside the two marker and Excelebration was beaten in a matter of strides. Queally pushed his mount out to the line and he cruised past the post 11 lengths to the good, with many at Ascot having to cast their eyes towards the big screens for confirmation of what they had just seen.
A 69-year-old Sir Henry Cecil said with a wry smile
The Royal Ascot romp earned Frankel a Timeform rating of 147 - the highest given out in the respected organisation's 64 years in the game - and above luminaries of the sport like Sea Bird, Dancing Brave and Brigadier Gerard.
A saunter round the Sussex Downs followed, with a victory at the startling price of 1/20 in the Sussex Stakes - which teed him up for a step into the unknown. Cecil had always maintained that Frankel would relish a step up from a mile to 10 furlongs, but there was always the nagging doubt.
The acid test came in the International Stakes at York, a race sponsored by the colt's owner Prince Khalid Abdullah. Frankel faced a battle-hardened rival in dual Coronation Cup winner St Nicholas Abbey. Those expecting a battle were disappointed, although the performance did not disappoint, as Frankel produced a display of jaw-dropping dominance. He travelled with all his customary exuberance and even over two furlongs further, the tank did not empty. He swept to the front well over two furlongs from home and cruised seven lengths clear to the delight of a huge crowd on the Knavesmire.
Cecil was at York to saddle his superstar, which was notable given that he was, and still is, fighting cancer. The master trainer credits Frankel with pulling him through some dark days.
"I look like death and when people see me they'll think I'm going to die tomorrow," Cecil said. "But I'm not. I'm very determined that I have to be there for Frankel. So he has helped to keep me going."
Frankel looked to be getting better and better, which Cecil always envisaged. He had put horse racing on not only the back pages but the front pages as well. It was announced that he would sign off for the year, and it was later confirmed his career, in the Champion Stakes at Ascot. Excelebration contested the QEII Stakes the race before Frankel stepped on the track, but his blistering display was missed by thousands who elected to take their place on the edge of the parade ring to await the star turn.
He did not turn a hair in front of the massed crowds, seemingly made for the big stage. The weather, though, was decidedly autumnal and the ground on the soft side. Against Frankel was a grizzled six-year-old gelding in Cirrus Des Aigles. If he was to be vulnerable, it was over 10 furlongs on soft ground against a horse that revels when the mud is flying. The pulse began racing early, as Frankel missed the break. It wasn't by design and for a moment there was panic in the Cecil camp, with Ian Mongan aboard pacemaker Bullet Train desperately looking over his shoulder for Frankel. Queally kept his composure and he allowed Frankel to make his ground gradually.
Cirrus Des Aigles elected to make it a test and pressed on a long way out. Still Frankel cruised and he eased alongside over a furlong from home. Cirrus Des Aigles kept fighting and Queally was in the strange situation of having to ask his partner to race. The champion responded and although the winning margin was only one-and-three-quarter lengths, it was a hugely impressive display.
He was paraded before his adoring Ascot public before being cheered into the winner's enclosure and on into retirement.
"I may be training for 30 more years," the 69-year-old Cecil said with a wry smile, "But it's very unlikely that I'll get another one like that."
It will be a long, long time before the like of Frankel is seen again on a racecourse.