Frankel: the Horse, the Man, the Stallion

The gray or roan Frankel colt, Hip 571, walked into the ring with the swagger of his sire, and also his sire's namesake.

What an easy sell. You could almost hear the barker calling out: “Come see the first offspring of the most brilliant and explosive horse seen in Europe in many years…Bid on him and bring home a piece of history…Catch a bolt of lightning from one of the most exciting spectacles ever to hit British racing.”

Oddly enough, with all the American and European interest in Frankel, the buyer who would walk away with this yearling, one of two to sell in Book 1 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, was Teruo Ono who will send the colt to Japan after purchasing him for $800,000. Not bad for an Irish-bred colt by an English-bred sire, out of a mare by an Irish-bred stallion. The other Frankel yearling to sell was an RNA.

As a reminder, Frankel won all 14 of his starts by an average margin of around 5 3/4 lengths. Six of his victories were by six lengths or more, including three by double digits.

To refresh the memory a bit, and for those who missed it, here is a reprint of my column following Frankel’s final appearance on the racetrack, a victory in the Champion Stakes.


Well, there’s no escaping it now. Frankelstein cannot be destroyed. Racing’s four-legged monster has run amok for the last time. All that is left is to write books about arguably the most exciting horse ever seen in Great Britain, at least in modern times. Has anyone in England, even veterans of the sport, ever seen a prop wager offering 8-1 on a horse winning a race by over 10 lengths? We’re talking European racing, where a three- or four-length victory is considered a romp. For Frankel, that’s a photo finish.

Frankel doesn’t beat his opposition, he pummels them into submission and leaves them reeling far up the track. There was great concern about the soft condition of the Ascot ground in the Champion Stakes, but Frankel was able to get the better of a top-class mud freak like Cirrus des Aigles, who had won his last five starts on soft ground by an average margin of almost eight lengths. For Frankel, he had to work harder than usual to wear down Cirrus des Aigles, but considering his bad break and the ground, and his favorite whipping boy, Excelebration, dominating the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes the race before, he did nothing but add to his legacy.

Frankel’s historic victory, capping an unbeaten career, was much needed in a year where history was thwarted a several occasions. An 11th-hour injury before the Belmont Stakes prevented I’ll Have Another from attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years. A heartbreaking defeat in the St. Leger prevented Camelot from becoming the first British Triple Crown winner in 41 years. A quarantine regulation in Germany prevented Danedream from trying to become the first filly to win back-to-back Arc de Triomphes in 75 years.

Frankel, however, came through, not only for Great Britain and Europe, but the entire world, overcoming the kind of footing that he has been able to avoid in his last 12 races. Frankel showed it doesn’t matter how far his swift legs sink into the turf, they bounce back up as if on springs. His smooth, powerful stride makes everything seem effortless, and he has the ability to separate himself from his opposition with such alacrity, it’s as if he’d been demagnetized from them. To him, the two-furlong marker, often a seemingly brick wall to his opponents, is merely a launch pad.

Some have anointed him the greatest horse ever, while others are more restrained in their praise. Having never run over the classic distance of 1 1/2 miles, it is difficult to compare him to horses like Ribot, Sea-Bird, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, and Brigadier Gerard, or even Sea the Stars and Shergar. After Saturday, it is difficult to imagine any horse beating him up to 10 furlongs. Beyond that, it is pure conjecture. In the end, history will place Frankel where he belongs in the pantheon of greats.

From one American’s viewpoint, it just doesn’t make sense. Frankel seems an aberration, a contradiction; something that defies all the rules of genetics and racing tradition. At the risk of sounding pompous and disgustingly provincial, Frankel should have American blood coursing through his veins, especially on his sire’s side; a Seattle Slew incarnate let loose over the grassy expanses of European racetracks. After all, how else can you explain a horse who contradicts all the principals of European racing and breeding by running with the brilliance and controlled reckless abandon of, well, an American. Yet he is by an Irish-bred staying sire, out of an Irish-bred mare, by a staying stallion who was the leading sire in England, Ireland, France, and Australia multiple times each?

Europe has, of course, produced fast enough sprinters, but nothing like Frankel, who carries sprinting speed a distance of ground and just keeps going, crushing his opponents, who cannot match his devastating speed and power. You just do not see horses in Europe winning all 14 of their career starts by an average margin of almost six lengths, including victories of 13, 11, 10, 7, and 6 (twice) lengths. You don’t see horses opening up a 10-length lead midway through the 2,000 Guineas and winning in a canter. Here is a horse who can beat a top-class miler like Canford Cliffs with an explosive turn of foot or simply run his foes into the ground right from the start, as he did in the Guineas. If you think you can bottle him up in traffic, just watch him shove Excelebration aside in the Queen Anne Stakes like he was swatting a gnat.

So, what is the explanation behind an enigmatic wonder like Frankel? Could it be the American blood from his female family through Danzig, His Majesty, and Stage Door Johnny, gushing forth like it never has before? Those names evoke stamina more than speed, although all three displayed brilliant speed on the racetrack.

Could it be there is something mystical about this horse? Could it be the American influence is not from any of the horses in his pedigree, but from the person for whom he was named?

When Bobby Frankel died in Nov. 2009, it’s as if his spirit was whisked away to England, manifesting itself inside a yearling colt by Galileo. Why would Juddmonte name a son of Galileo after Frankel, rather than a colt with an American pedigree who could show off his brilliance in the States? Did they know something? Was it gut instinct? Was this particular Galileo yearling running around his paddock cursing out his fellow yearlings and finding something to complain about? Or perhaps he walked up to the fence one day and boldly stated he was going to be a super horse, and if you didn’t believe him you were a moron.

Whatever the reason, it is beginning to look more and more as if Frankel the horse embodies the spirit of Frankel the human, whether you buy it or not. If Bobby were granted one day to return to earth, as Emily Webb was in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, he would have chosen today in order to say goodbye to his namesake, and he would have flashed that cocky Cheshire Cat grin of his as if to say, “Hey, it was the name that did it.”

Let’s look at the facts, Bobby hated to lose. Bobby dreamed of having that one immortal superstar for Juddmonte and believed he did with Empire Maker. Bobby was so competitive he took no prisoners on the racetrack. If he could crush you he would. Bobby was defiant and never afraid of any opponent. He never backed down from a challenge and would love to have seen his namesake come here for last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile and attempt to thwart Goldikova’s bid for a fourth consecutive victory. If Frankel the horse had come and knocked off everyone’s favorite heroine, or crushed America’s top Horse of the Year candidate, Wise Dan, this year, Frankel the person would have given that same grin and relished having spoiled the fairy tale endings, just as he did when he defeated the darling of New York, Funny Cide, in the Belmont Stakes. 

Bobby may have enjoyed playing the bad guy, but behind that crusty exterior was a marshmallow of a heart and soul that always had a warm place for his special circle of friends -- human, equine, and canine; not necessarily in that order. He was almost childlike around his horses and especially his Australian Shepherds. When the love of his life, Happy, died in his arms he wept like a baby and was grief-stricken for weeks, unable to talk about her without breaking down. When Happy was seriously ill, Bobby had decided to stay home and care for her rather than attend the Breeders’ Cup. As a result, he missed Ginger Punch’s gutsy victory in the Distaff. He would name his next dog Ginger and the following one Punch. 

Several days before his filly, Flute, won the Kentucky Oaks in 2001, he stood outside her stall with a big smile on his face and lavished affection on her, hugging and kissing her and talking baby talk to her. He said he wanted her to win badly, simply because she was such a sweet filly to be around. That was the Bobby Frankel few people ever saw.

As for Frankel the horse, he is the culmination of a miracle that began in 1990 when a brash, outspoken Jewish kid from the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y. formed a long-lasting bond with a Saudi Arabian prince.

It was an unlikely partnership that somehow became one of the most successful alliances in racing history. Everything they built together and everything they strove for has been realized in one very special colt. It’s a shame Bobby Frankel didn’t train him or even get to see him run. Frankel the horse remains a wonderment; unlike anything ever seen before. Yes, there appears to be some ethereal connection between Frankel the horse and Frankel the person. But some things are just meant to be enjoyed and are not worth trying to explain.


Only time will tell what kind of impact Frankel can make as a sire. In the sales ring in America, will his brilliant mile speed and ability to decimate his opposition overcome his being a European grass horse? Grass horses generally are frowned upon as top of the market stallions? In short, will Americans pay big bucks for his offspring?

So far, he has made his presence felt in the weanling market in England, having one of his three fillies sell last year for 1,428,571 pounds. At Keeneland he had two colts sell from Book 1, the other going for $500,000.

Unfortunately, we didn’t learn much from the Keeneland September sale as far as the Americans are concerned, but you can bet there are a number of them who would love to get their hands on the offspring of this remarkable horse. Bobby Frankel would have been one of them.

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