x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Frankel faces tough task in farewell race

Rain will making the going soft at Ascot where Frankel will face a tough field that includes Cirrus Des Aigles, Pastorius and Nathaniel, among others, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Shane Fetherstonhaugh takes Frankel on a gallop in practice at Newmarket racecourse. Wet weather may make the going at Ascot soft.
Shane Fetherstonhaugh takes Frankel on a gallop in practice at Newmarket racecourse. Wet weather may make the going at Ascot soft.


There are many things we may never find out about Frankel but the Champion Stakes at Ascot on heavy ground on Saturday may well require him to dig deeper than ever before in what will be his last race before he is retired to stud.

The English racecourse was hit by a further 5mm of rain on Wednesday night and with up to 8mm forecast to fall overnight conditions are set to be against Frankel for the final chapter in the extraordinary story of the world's best horse.

Frankel's only encounter with soft ground was on his racecourse debut two seasons ago when he denied Nathaniel, who was among Thursday's final declarations, by half a length.

Whereas Corine Barande-Barbe, the trainer of Cirrus Des Aigles, Frankel's main rival, was content on Tuesday with the unsettled forecast, it was left to Tom Queally, who has ridden the four year old in all 13 of his victories, to state that conditions would not be a factor. He was not overly convincing.

"I don't think soft will be a problem to him," Queally said.

"I was taken with his debut and was able to bring him up through the gears and sit and then go again, which is not an easy thing to do as you have to keep momentum going.

"Heavy ground may be a different story but I can't see it being a major concern if it is testing."

While Queally's comments were given the backing of Lord Grimthorpe, the racing manager to owner Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, behind closed doors at Warren Place stables Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel's trainer, was less enthusiastic about his charge showcasing his outrageous ability on rain-softened going.

Cecil has painstakingly handled Frankel's career with extreme attention to detail and after 43 years of handling thoroughbreds the 10-times champion trainer believes that Frankel's natural speed could be blunted if further rain falls.

"I am pretty confident he will be fine in soft ground, but if it's heavy we are in no-man's land," he said.

"He has never encountered it and, with his action and turn of foot, I cannot be sure he would appreciate it."

Frankel, Cirrus Des Aigles and Nathaniel were declared yesterday alongside Pastorius, the German Derby winner, Bullet Train, Frankel's pacemaker, and Master Of Hounds, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa.

William Buick will reprise his role aboard Nathaniel after John Gosden's four year old missed the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe this month because of a spike in temperature.

Although Nathaniel pushed Frankel close on their only meeting, Buick is under no illusions about the task ahead of him.

"Obviously we will try to beat him but he is unbeatable," he said. "Tom has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Of course everyone wants to ride nice horses but that comes at a price and Tom has dealt with it very well.

"Nathaniel is a fantastic horse and it will be his last race. I am going up against a horse that people are saying is the best they have seen. Frankie Dettori said to me last night, 'Get real, it's not going to happen'. Deep down, I think, he is probably right."


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