On 11th February 2008 at 11.40pm, Frankel, arguably the greatest thoroughbred horse in the history of racing, was foaled and weighed 123 pounds. He is the highest rated horse ever according to Timeform and captivated the world with his remarkable performances over his brief 3 year career.
Frankel won all 14 races he entered and in truth, few horses ever came close to him; indeed, some racing experts proclaimed him ‘unbeatable’ as he made excellent horses look decidedly ordinary. Below, we look at Frankel’s career and try to determine what made him so special.
Frankel was sired by champion racecourse Galileo and is owned by Prince Khalid Abdulla who had many of his horses trained by legendary American trainer Bobby Frankel. Sadly, Bobby died from cancer in November 2009; the horse was named after him.
Abdulla elected to send the horse to Sir Henry Cecil; another eminent trainer suffering from cancer. The Prince had been friends with Cecil since 1990 yet a number of racing insiders questioned the wisdom of sending Frankel to the Cecil yard as it had suffered a serious decline in form over the previous years. Nonetheless, the Prince trusted his old friend with the prodigious horse and the rest as they say, is history.
Frankel made his 2-year-old debut as on 13 August at Newmarket in a one-mile maiden race. He didn’t start particularly well and was ‘held up’ by Tom Queally (his jockey for all 14 races) before getting to work inside the last couple of furlongs to win by half a length. While this may not seem particularly impressive, it is important to note that second placed Nathaniel later went on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Race #2 resulted in an easy 13 length win at Doncaster but it was on 25 September in Race #3 when Frankel really showed that he was something special. It was his first race against Group company at Ascot in the Royal Lodge Stakes. After giving high quality horses a head start, he ate up the ground and left them for dust in effortless fashion before winning by 10 lengths. This was the day when Frankel looked like a phenomenon for the first time; it was only the beginning.
His final race of 2010 took place at Newmarket where he won by over 2 lengths; beating previously unbeaten Saamidd and Dream Ahead in the process. It was Frankel’s first Group 1 win.
Frankel’s 3-year-old season was geared towards the 2,000 Guineas and he began in fine style with a 4 length win in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury.
Although he was a big favourite for the 2,000 Guineas at odds of 1/2, what he did during that race will live long in the memory. In one of the UK race calendar’s biggest events, Frankel utterly destroyed a field of premium quality horses. He led by 15 lengths at one point and cruised to a devastating 6 length victory. It was described as an unbelievable performance by racing experts and it placed him firmly on top of the flat racing world.
Unfortunately, concerns about stamina meant Frankel did not enter the Epsom Derby. Instead, he went to Ascot and won the St. James’ Palace Stakes. However, the margin of victory was just ¾ of a length and Tom Queally was criticised in some quarters for a ‘poor ride’; it was also the first time Frankel looked beatable.
Yet this notion was dispelled in July at Goodwood when Frankel comprehensively defeated Canford Cliffs by 5 lengths; Canford Cliffs was at that time deemed to be the best older 1-mile racehorse in the world and had won 5 Group 1 races in a row. After the victory, Frankel was given an Official Rating of 135 by the British Horseracing Authority; this made him the world’s highest rated horse.
Another easy win over a field which had two Group 1 winners at Ascot in the Queen Elizabeth II stakes ensured Frankel ended the year with a Timeform rating of 143; the 4th highest ever.
This was his four-year-old season and proved to be his last. Frankel had a brief injury scare in April; in fact, some rumours circulated that he was to be retired but after a second scan showed no damage, he was cleared to race. His first race of 2012 was a cruise in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury which he won by 5 lengths.
His next performance, at the Queen Anne Stakes, was probably his best ever. Sent off as 1/10 favourite, he fully justified the hype with a brilliant 11 length win. Two of his beaten rivals had been ranked in the world’s top 5 three-year-old colts in 2011 which made his performance all the more astonishing. He covered the last furlong in an incredible 10.58 seconds.
The people behind the ratings went crazy as Timeform gave Frankel a rating of 147; its highest ever. The Racing Post also gave Frankel its highest ever rating at 142 but BHA kept him at an OR of 140, 1 point behind record holder Dancing Brave.
However, in January 2013, the BHA announced ‘recalibrated ratings’. Frankel remained on 140 but was now the all-time leader as Dancing Brave’s mark was dropped to 138 while Alleged fell to 134 and Shergar was dropped to 136; both had been on 140 before the changes.
At the Sussex Stakes, Frankel won by 6 lengths to equal Rock of Gibraltar’s all-time record of 7 consecutive Group 1 wins in Europe.
The Juddmonte International Stakes was held over 10 furlongs and was the first time Frankel had entered a race longer than a mile. Doubts about his stamina had no foundation as he won off the bridle by 7 lengths and broke the aforementioned successive Group 1 wins record. It transpired that Frankel’s incredible cruising speed gave him an even bigger advantage over longer distances.
The 10 furlong Champion Stakes at Ascot was to be Frankel’s last ever race. There was to be no fireworks on this occasion although he still changed gears impressively to overhaul his rivals and win by ¾ of a length in the end. Prince Abdullah confirmed that Frankel was retiring and would be sent out to stud.
What Made Frankel So Special?
As you might expect, there are a number of reasons why this wonder horse was so much better than the rest and we explore them below.
Frankel’s sire was Galileo, widely regarded as one of the great thoroughbreds. Galileo’s career was short at just 12 months but he won 6 out of 8 races including the Epsom Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. His final Timeform rating was an impressive 134.
Frankel’s dam was Kind, winner of 6 races and half sister to Powerscourt, winner of the famed Arlington Million.
This impressive breeding background means Frankel is now in-demand at stud. His stud fee was set at a whopping £125,000 in 2013 and in his first season as a stallion he covered 133 mares. In 2014, the first foal of Frankel to be sold at auction fetched an incredible £1.15 million.
Frankel is said to have a remarkable physique for a horse and is 163.8cm from ground to shoulder (16 hands high); this is considered to be ideal for a thoroughbred racehorse. His muscular development, bones and limbs have all drawn praise from his owner Prince Abdullah.
Yet what arguably sets him apart from the rest is his remarkable stride length which is estimated at 22 feet; this is in comparison to the standard thoroughbred horse’s stride which is 20-21 feet. Frankel also possesses extremely large feet and has a shoe size of 7.5 in front and 7 behind.
During races, Frankel is believed to take anywhere between 130-140 strides per minute and clocked a top speed of 69 kilometres per hour during one of his Goodwood romps. Bear in mind the average winning speed over a 5 furlong race is around 60 km/h.
Incidentally, the Frankel machine needs a lot of fuelling; his racing diet included a whopping 23 pounds of Canadian oats every day and his total daily calorie intake was approximately 35,000!
Will To Win
Jockey Tom Queally and owner Prince Abdulla have stated their admiration for Frankel’s will to win. The Prince said Frankel was “an intelligent horse with a racing brain.” Meanwhile, Queally claimed that Frankel was “so competitive and has a will to win like no other horse I’ve ever ridden.”
He also showed signs of improvement virtually year-on-year and was consistently producing all-time great performances which we will briefly look at below.
We often witness greatness on the racecourse but it’s exceedingly rare for a horse to produce a sequence of breathtaking displays; but this is precisely what Frankel did. His third race (his first appearance at Ascot) was the day he announced his brilliance. For most horses, that performance would be virtually their best but with Frankel, it may not even make his top 6!
His greatness is not just measured by the fact he won all 14 races; it’s not even the way he won 10 Group 1 races in a row; it’s the way in which he utterly annihilated the world’s best horses.
His 2,000 Guineas performance in 2011 was arguably the greatest in the history of the race as he obliterated the best horses of his generation. His 11 length win at Ascot in June 2012 was described by the Guardian as the single best performance of any horse in any race since a trio of Arabian stallions were imported into Britain in the 18th century.
Frankel is a horse that in many ways has managed to transcend the sport of racing. His name became known by those with little or no interest in racing and his performances captivated the world during his short but glorious 3 year career. For reference, Frankel’s performance in the 2012 Juddmonte International attracted more than 30,000 racegoers, an increase of 55% on the 2011 event’s attendance.
This magnificent racing machine is worth an estimated £100 million but of course Prince Abdulla would never sell. According to Timeform, the performance Frankel put in for the Queen Anne Stakes in 2012 is the best since it created its rankings. Although it is difficult to properly ascertain the identity of the greatest flat racing horse ever, few would argue against Frankel being #1.