x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Rival Excelebration targets frontrunner Frankel

Tom Queally onboard No 1-rated thoroughbred in the world for his first run of the season

Frankel with jockey Tom Queally.
Frankel with jockey Tom Queally.

Racing is a sport which is driven by the remotest possibility of success and the six jockeys that line up against Tom Queally and Frankel in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury Racecourse must be more acutely aware of this than ever.

The world's highest-rated thoroughbred makes his seasonal bow in the Group 1 mile contest, and the five furlong straight at the track is perfectly suited to the long-striding colt.

Frankel has already proved the flat, galloping course is to his liking and has victories over today's rivals Strong Suit, Excelebration, Bullet Train and Dubawi Gold en route to racking up nine consecutive victories.

On paper, Frankel, a year older, and according to his trainer Sir Henry Cecil, a year wiser, looks to have faultless claims. And yet Adam Kirby, who has partnered Excelebration twice in defeat behind Prince Khalid Abdullah's colt, believes that the unbeaten son of Galileo could well suffer defeat.

Excelebration was four lengths behind Frankel when the pair met at Newbury last year in the Greenham Stakes, also Frankel's seasonal debut.

For Kirby, who rides Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa's horses in England, it was an opportunity lost as for a whole furlong he matched strides with the horse that subsequently has become a worldwide sensation.

"He ran a big race up against Frankel. At one stage I really thought I would pick him up and get to him, but unfortunately he found a little bit more," Kirby told The National.

Kirby believed his mount might have the measure of Frankel when they next met in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Although it is generally accepted that Queally lost his nerve and went for home too early, Kirby says there were mitigating circumstances to Excelebration's two-length defeat.

"We were closing in on Frankel but it was a messy race," he said. "My horse shied away from a camera at the start and then I got a nasty bump from Richard Hughes aboard Dubawi Gold on the outside that allowed Frankel to get a run on. I was forced off the bridle to keep my position. I think we could have given him a run for his money that day if everything had gone smoothly."

Kirby was not on board when Frankel once again put his enduring rival in his place when sauntering away with the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October.

Jamie Spencer watched Frankel accelerate four-lengths clear as he renewed his association with the Coolmore breeding organisation, which had bought the son of the Australian sprinter Exceed And Excel.

Excelebration comes into today's contest trained to the minute after a fluid victory under Joseph O'Brien in a substandard Group 3 in Ireland last month.

After Frankel's well-documented injury scare in the build-up Kirby believes the champion is there for the taking.

"I think Excelebration absolutely has got a chance," he said. "He was always going to strengthen up from three to four; he's that kind of horse. It's just a matter of whether Frankel is as good as he was."

In the rush to get Frankel back from injury, Cecil has used Newmarket Racecourse for two gallops in an effort to fine tune his stable star.

And yet, there is the merest hint that Frankel is not quite there after the trainer insisted this week that his work partner and pacemaker today, Bullet Train, had gone too slowly to really extend him.

It may be only a minor weakness, but it gives hope to Kirby and everyone else that Frankel just might get beaten today. It is what the sport is all about.