Champions Day at Ascot: Frankel seeks to take win streak to 14
By Tom Krish
The QIPCO Champions Day is the biggest event in the British racing calendar. On Saturday, October 20, there is a six-race card at Ascot. There are five Championship races and the sixth and last race is a seven-furlong contest that is called ‘Future Stars Apprentices Handicap.’
On Thursday, October 18, a press conference was held at the Jockey Club Office in Newmarket. I had the good fortune to attend. Rod Street, the Chairman of the Champions Day organization, spoke about the concept and expressed delight that Frankel was the main element in the Champion framework.
Lord Teddy Grimthorpe, Racing Manager for Prince Khalid Abdullah who owns the incomparable Frankel, talked about Frankel’s career. Then there was William Buick who’ll be aboard the John Gosden-trained Nathaniel. Finally, jockey Tom Queally, an integral part of the Frankel story, made a statement and answered questions.
I asked Lord Grimthorpe to respond to the argument that Frankel’s connections were always in search of a protective environment to keep his win streak going. The American audience would have loved to see Frankel race in America and especially in the Breeders’ Cup.
It was a lengthy response. “All options were thought of. Our path did not take us to America. Nobody loves American racing more than the Prince (Abdullah) does. Our intention was to do what was best for Frankel. He has done everything we have asked him to do,” Lord Grimthorpe said.
“Whether Saturday’s Champion Stakes will be Frankel’s last start, I cannot tell you with certainty. It is Prince Abdullah’s decision,” Grimthorpe stated.
Jockey Buick, perhaps the youngest person in the conference room, was emphatic about what he had to say. “I am not there for second prize money. I know we have a very tough horse to beat in Frankel. It may not be the popular thing to do but I will try hard to win the race.”
William Buick is having a sensational year. He has won a large number of high profile races. Here’s one important fact. In August 2010, Frankel beat Nathaniel by one half length in their debuts. In a way, if any rival has a claim, it could be Nathaniel.
Jockey Tom Qually recalled some of Frankel’s victories. “I would rate the 2000 Guineas as a tremendous run. The Juddmonte International at York this year when Frankel travelled a mile and a quarter was another race that is at the top of the list,” Queally averred.
“Frankel the horse has been your loyal friend and companion who has never let you down. Have you met Frankel the man, the legendary trainer who took care of Prince Abdullah’s horses in America?” I asked jockey Queally.
“I have not met Mr Frankel. I know he was a great man. Frankel is carrying his memories. I am riding a horse trained by a legend in England, Sir Henry Cecil,” Queally answered.
The going is likely to be soft. The Berkshire area where Ascot Racecourse is located has had spells of rain. Frankel has never run on (very) soft or heavy going. The British bookmakers eased the price. From 1/10, Frankel moved to 1/5.
Now a word about Cirrus Des Aigles. The 2011 Champions Stakes winner has emerged from a setback. He looked impressive when winning the Group II Prix Dollar at Longchamp over the Arc weekend. The softer the ground, the better for Cirrus Des Aigles. Olivier Peslier is flying in from Paris to ride Cirrus Des Aigles.
The Ascot card on Saturday gets under way at 1:45 pm. The first race is the two mile Long Distance Cup, a Group III contest. The total prize money is 200,000 pounds. There are nine horses going postward. Fame And Glory is back to defend his title. Opinion Poll and Colour Vision represent the Godolphin team. Rite Of Passage and Saddler’s Rock carry Ireland’s hopes. Opinion Poll, to be ridden by Mickael Barzalona, is the sharpest at the moment and has the most appeal.
The second race at 2:20 pm is the Sprint over six furlongs, a Group II test. There are fifteen sprinters. Wizz Kid, the Prix le d’Abbaye champion on Arc day, is in action with jockey Peslier. Jockey Gerald Mosse rode Wizz Kid in Paris and has an overseas commitment. Society Rock, Kieren Fallon up, comes in trained to the minute. Maarek, the Irish star, will be handled by Jamie Spencer. Libranno and Richard Hughes wlll represent Richard Hannon. The Sprint is an open affair and carries a 250,000-pound purse.
The third race comes up at 2:55 pm. It is the Filly-Mare Stakes over a mile and a half. There are ten vying for top honors. Dancing Rain and Johnny Murtagh are back for an encore. Sapphire, from the Dermot Weld yard, is in good form and will have the services of Pat Smullen. However, class and form considerations may lead to us to Great Heavens. The John Gosden trainee, winner of the Irish Oaks at the Curragh on heavy ground, ran well in the Arc on October 7. She is back with the girls and sets a high standard. This is a Group II race with a 250,000-pound purse.
At 3:30 pm, the field will be let go in the Group I Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a mile race. It has a purse of 1,000,000 pounds. There are eight runners. Excelebration has won whenever Frankel has not stopped him and figures to be an odds-on choice. Joseph O’Brien rides for his trainer father, Aidan O’Brien. Carlton House, owned by the Queen, is in the field.
Then comes the mile and a quarter Champions Stakes. It is a Group I race with prize money of 1.300,000 pounds. Six will answer the starter’s call. Frankel will attempt to make it 14 for 14. Bullet Train, Frankel’s stablemate, is there to play the role of pacemaker. Aside from Nathaniel and Cirrus Des Aigles, Master Of Hounds and Pastorius, the accomplished German runner, will take their chances.
The final race on Saturday is one for apprentice jockeys. There are 29 going to the starting gate. It is a straight seven-furlong dash. It is going to be a spectacle.
There was an official press statement from Sir Henry Cecil. I am reproducing parts of it.
“I am lucky to have been given Frankel to train. He has been an inspiration and challenge which I really needed so badly. Through my illness, I feel that the help from my wife Jane and the determination to be there for Frankel has helped me so much to get through the season,” Sir Cecil stated.
Sir Cecil added, “I was very pleased with Frankel’s final piece of work. He gives the impression that he is better than ever and still improving.”
Here are some facts about Frankel. He is by Galileo out of Kind, a Danehill mare. Frankel is valued at 100 million pounds as a future stallion. He will likely command a 100,000-pound covering fee. Frankel was named after Bobby Frankel, an American training legend. He eats three feeds a day and snacks on English hay. He likes a carrot treat now and then. His main feed consists of corn, alfalfa chaff and bran. He has a calcium supplement. He eats 23 pounds of Canadian oats per day.
Frankel has large feet. He wears size seven and one half shoes in front and size seven in the back. Now, will this fact help him manage heavy ground?
Here is something interesting. There are Frankel proposition wagers. Yes, you can bet the race without Frankel. You get 2/1 if Frankel wins by under four lengths. It is also 2/1 if the winning margin is between four and six lengths. Again 2/1 if Frankel wins by over six lengths.
You are offered 2/1 if Frankel’s first crop will produce a Group I (two year-old) winner in UK, France or Ireland in 2016. There is 4/1 if Frankel will sire a Classic winner in France, Ireland or England during 2017.
It is Friday 10:30 am as I finish typing this. It is a cold day in Newmarket. I am ready for Champions Day at Ascot.