Phenomenon - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the September 1, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell The Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-I) Aug. 22 at York Racecourse (View photos here) had no shot to be considered anything but an extraordinary race. The presence of international superstar Frankel assured the race would be one for the ages.

Two furlongs from the wire, however, with jockeys scrubbing furiously away on their mounts while jockey Tom Queally sits oh so still atop Frankel, the track suddenly took on the feel of an old-time religion tent revival.

“And here it goes down to the final two, into unknown territory,” said York’s track announcer Stewart Machin, referring to the 4-year-old son of Galileo’s first try in a race longer than a mile. “Queally shakes the reins and the response is immediate. It’s all over. Frankel scorching away.”

Machin is warmed up and rolling. If he were a tent-revival preacher, he’d be center stage at this point, his arms raised skyward, a worn King James Bible in one hand, sweat pouring off his forehead and drenching his shirt. The followers before him all on their feet stomping, shouting, celebrating.

On the York turf one furlong to go, Queally offered a light tap, shook the reins a bit more, and away Frankel flew from group I-placed Farhh and 2011 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner St Nicholas Abbey, opening up a seven-length lead.

“This poetry of destruction. This glory of rhythm, power, and majesty,” Machin’s voice boomed across the track. “The undisputed champion of the world.”

As we watched Frankel gallop spryly beyond the wire, we’ve reached new territory ourselves, where words fail to capture the phenomenal, jaw-dropping performances we’ve seen from this colt again and again. The singular phrase that sticks is how remarkably easy Frankel wins. Undefeated, and yet you can see he’s capable of more. Thirteen consecutive victories and a European record of eight consecutive group I wins and it seems we’re nowhere near seeing his best.

How can this be?

“The extraordinary thing with this horse is what is so originally extraordinary almost becomes the norm,” Lord Grimthorpe, racing manager for Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, told Racing UK in a video interview Aug. 15. Juddmonte bred and races Frankel, whom the farm named after the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, the conditioner of many graded/group stakes winners. “After the (QIPCO Two Thousand) Guineas, then the Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Anne (all Eng-I)—on their own would be a lifetime best. This horse has been so incredibly consistent at the very top level; it is a huge tribute to Henry and his team.”

Frankel is trained by Sir Henry Cecil.

Forget struggling for words; some handicappers in Europe were left struggling to even give Frankel’s Juddmonte International performance a rating of some kind. In 2011 the World Thoroughbred Rankings rated Frankel at 136, the same rating given Sea The Stars for his Horse of the Year performance in 2009. Following the QIPCO Sussex Stakes (Eng-I), the Racing Post rated Frankel at 140 and kept him there after the Juddmonte International.

Globeform editor Geir Stabell, however, said he had Frankel at 142 plus after the Sussex and considered that rating a guess. After the Juddmonte International, Stabell said Frankel’s performance was impossible to assess.

“This phenomenal horse simply cannot be rated because no other horse is good enough to test him,” Stabell said. “Could he have won by 10 at York? Probably. Could he have won by 12, 14, 16 lengths? Who knows. I certainly don’t. All I know is I am happy to use ‘?’ as his rating from now on.”

What’s next for Frankel is hopefully an appearance in the 11⁄2-mile Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) at Longchamp in October. As easily as he won the Juddmonte International, few expect him to have any trouble going an additional quarter-mile.

And if Frankel goes in the Arc, forget ratings and forget odds. Just sit back, enjoy, and celebrate the brilliance of a horse whose likes we won’t see again in a long, long time.

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