The brilliant and undefeated Frankel (GB) will take on five rivals in the Group 1 British Champions Stakes, the cornerstone event of the 2012 British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday.
Thirteen times Frankel has loaded into a starting gate over the past three years. And thirteen times he's not only won, he's dominated his competition. The greatness of Frankel comes from not his sterling record or string of Group 1 victories. It comes from the manner in which he wins as he crushes his opposition in the blink of an eye and makes good horses look like also-rans.
Timeform, the gold standard for many in Europe for rating horses, lists Frankel as one of the top horses in the last half century. The Racing Post in the United Kingdom has never bestowed a higher rating than the 140 assigned to the colt known as "The Freak". Now matter what system is used to measure excellence in horse racing they all come to the same conclusion: Frankel is in a class of his own.
Frankel, in many ways, is the complete race horse. He has few, if any, flaws. Perhaps his greatest asset is his high cruising speed, a trait he uses in every race to demoralize his opponents in the final quarter mile. Time and time again, Frankel moves from the middle of the pack to the front without the slightest of urging from jockey Tom Queally. His rivals, despite the furious urging of the jockeys, can't keep up. When finally asked for more run from his rider, Frankel sprints away from his competition as if they were standing still.
If you've never had the pleasure of watching Frankel run, check out the video at the bottom of this preview of his victory in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot this past June. When the race moves into the final quarter mile, take notice of how still the hands of Frankel's jockey are compared to that of his rivals. Then, when Queally decides it's time to go, the race is over in the blink of an eye.
Let's take a look at the field for the 2012 Group 1 British Champions Stakes at Ascot:
1-Bullet Train (GB): Frankel's personal pacemaker (and half-brother), Bullet Train's purpose in this race is quite simple: put speed into the race and provide his sibling a target to run at. Truthfully, the notion that Frankel actually needs a pacemaker is somewhat humorous given how much better he is than the rest of his rivals. But that won't stop trainer Sir Henry Cecil from making sure there's pace in this race.
2-Cirrus Des Aigles (FR): If there's a horse in this field that can upset Frankel, this colt might just be it. Perhaps the biggest factor on the side of Cirrus Des Aigles is the condition of the grass at Ascot on Saturday. Steady rain has left the course currently rated as "Soft" but it's possible the ground will be downgraded to "Heavy" in the next day. Frankel has never run over a heavy course but Cirrus Des Aigles has run and won over similar conditions several times during his career in France. In his most recent start, Cirrus Des Aigles won the G2-Prix Dollar at Longchamp in Paris over heavy ground, and prior to that he won the G1-Prix Ganay and the G3-Prix Gontaut-Biron. Cirrus Des Aigles is also the defending champion in the Champions Stakes winning last year's event by a length and three quarters over the very talented So You Think (NZ). Cirrus Des Aigles is a top class horse that has banked almost $5 million in his career. He'll have to run the race of his life to beat Frankel but at least he's got a shot; not many can say the same thing.
3-Frankel (GB): How dominating has this colt been during the course of his career and specifically in 2012? In his last four races, Frankel has won by seven, six, eleven and five lengths. Only once in his last ten races has he failed to win by more than two and a quarter lengths. His most recent effort in the G1-Juddmonte International was his first try at running the distance of a mile and a quarter which he won by seven easy lengths over Farhh (GB) and 2011 Breeders' Cup Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey (IRE). The strategy for jockey Tom Queally on Frankel is quite simple: get in the gate and hold on.
4-Master of Hounds: It's difficult to envision a situation that would allow Master of Hounds to win this race, with the exception of the riders of all the other horses falling off their mounts at the start of the race. In his last effort, Master of Hounds finished a dead-heat first in the Group 2 International Topkapi Trophy in Istanbul, Turkey. The quality of the field he'll face in the Champions Stakes is above and beyond the race in Istanbul.
5-Nathaniel (IRE): A top class colt that's won several big races in Europe over the last two years, Nathaniel is coming off a pair of second place finishes in the G1-Irish Champions Stakes and the G1-King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Nathaniel lost to Frankel in their only prior meeting - the very first race of Frankel's career on August 13th of 2010 at the Newmarket July Course. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Nathaniel on Saturday is the distance of the race; he's been a better horse at a mile and a half than at the Champions Stakes distance of a mile and a quarter. On the positive side, he's run well at Ascot in prior races (4-2-1-0).
6-Pastorius (GER): The lone three-year-old in the field, Pastorius has notched several group wins in Germany this year, including the G1-Deutsches Derby (German Derby) back on July 1st. The odds for Pastorius have hovered around 30/1 to 40/1 over the past week and he might not be a bad play if you're looking for a horse to play underneath Frankel in the exacta.
There's never a "sure thing" or a "stone cold lock" in a horse race. Too many times we've watched an unbeatable horse get beat for reasons that none of us can imagine or explain. Thoroughbreds are flesh and blood animals, not machines, and they are prone to days where they just don't feel right or aren't in top physical condition. In the big picture, it's possible that Frankel could be beaten on Saturday. But just because something is possible doesn't mean it's likely.
If Frankel doesn't care for the soft ground on Saturday, he should still be able to outclass this field in the final quarter mile given his tremendous turn of foot and superior cruising speed. Cirrus Des Aigles is a legitimate challenger with a top class resume, but a horse can't just be good or even very good to beat Frankel. It will take a great effort coupled with an off day for the world's top rated horse for an upset to occur - and that's an unlikely scenario.
It's Frankel's world, we all just live in it.