EVEN though he has nothing left to prove in racing, Sir Henry Cecil’s enthusiasm is infectious as he talks about Frankel – his wonderhorse, the best in the world, who returns to the racetrack today to begin a campaign which could ultimately bring him to York for Knavesmire’s richest race.
Yes, Cecil would relish the prospect of a clash with Australia’s heroine Black Caviar, the ‘thunder from Down Under’ who is unbeaten in 21 starts and now bound for Royal Ascot. “It would be good for racing,” says the great knight of British racing.
And, yes, the 10-times champion trainer still wants the Prince Khalid Abdullah-owned colt to step up in trip to a mile-and-a-quarter, with the Juddmonte International – York’s richest race – on the agenda. “There’s a good chance that he will,” says Cecil.
Yet, in an interview to promote the Qipco-sponsored British Champions Series, Cecil just wants Frankel – still unbeaten after nine starts and looking to make it a perfect 10 today – to come through the JLT Lockinge Stakes over one mile, the horse’s favoured distance, unscathed.
It follows an injury scare last month which prompted premature and ill-founded reports on Grand National day about Frankel’s retirement – a hind leg caught a front hoof during a routine piece of work, a common occurrence that happened once to Sue Smith’s now-retired steeplechaser Mister McGoldrick, the Wetherby course specialist.
Cecil’s worries, however, were allayed a fortnight ago by an impressive racecourse gallop at Newmarket prior to the 2000 Guineas, the race that confirmed Frankel’s greatness 12 months earlier when he obliterated a quality field from the off under Tom Queally.
That was a career-defining victory from a horse whose second race, and win, had actually come in a modest three-runner affair at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting in 2010.
“The idea was just to get the adrenaline going a little bit,” explained Cecil.
“Luckily, thanks to the racing public, there were plenty of people there so it was rather like having a very easy race and the main thing was to get him to settle.
“He’s got a lot of energy. It may take a race to sort him out, but I think as time goes on, like last year, he’ll settle well.”
That Frankel has even resumed his career as a four-year-old is testament, he says, to the sportsmanship of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Khalid, the owner-breeder behind Juddmonte Farms which sponsors York’s International.
The diminutive Prince Khalid believes this relentless galloper has the scope to enhance his reputation still further – even a defeat is unlikely to significantly detract from Frankel’s likely earning power at stud when he is retired, presumably at the end of this season. His horse, the best Cecil has trained and named in honour of the celebrated American trainer Bobby Frankel, is reputedly worth £100m.
“It was marvellous for the Prince to keep him in training. A lot of people commercially would have retired him,” said the trainer whose return to prominence coincides with the slump being endured by Sir Michael Stoute just two years after his Dante runner-up Workforce was winning the Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“I’m glad he did because I think he’s a stronger horse now and hopefully he will be even better. If you have a horse of that calibre, they don’t come along every day and they don’t grow on trees.
“It’s nice to actually see his full potential and the Prince has taken that chance.”
Not a day passes now without Cecil – and Prince Khalid’s patient racing manager Lord Grimthorpe – being asked about Frankel’s likely targets after today’s pipe-opener.
He currently holds an entry in the one-mile Queen Anne Stakes on June 19, one of Royal Ascot’s day one highlights, and that remains the preferred option.
If, however, today’s race confirms that the colt is ready to step up in distance, the 10-furlong Prince of Wales’s Stakes on day two of the Royal meeting will come into the equation.
That one-and-a-quarter mile test – which tests the stamina of proven milers and the speed of stayers’ – is the same distance as Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse in early July, and in which Frankel holds an entry.
After that, the one-mile Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood – in which Frankel beat Canford Cliffs last year – and the aforementioned Juddmonte are both options before Cecil’s equine superstar lines up at the Qipco British Champions Day back at Ascot.
“We’re obviously going to start at a mile. It’s a question mark at (Royal) Ascot whether we’d go a mile or a mile-and-a-quarter. Maybe he will stay at a mile,” explained the trainer who has a study at Helmsley, North Yorkshire.
“He will step up in trip later in the year, I’m sure. He’s got to tell us it’s the right thing to do. Whether it be Eclipse time or whether it be Juddmonte time, there’s a good chance that he will.
“He’ll tell me what I should do. At the moment I’m rather veering towards two races at a mile, the Lockinge and Royal Ascot, before thinking of going further.
“I think he’ll stay, but then again let’s see how he races, how he settles. It would be nice for him to go a mile-and-a-quarter. If you’re just taking on the same two or three-milers all through the year it’s not the same as hopefully getting on top of them and then having the chance of taking on the mile-and-a-quarter horses. Then you’re taking on the best over two different distances.”
As for any clash with Black Caviar who heads the betting for the six furlong Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot – Mick Easterby’s Hoof It is still regarded as one of the best of the rest despite disappointing at York this week – Cecil is biding his time.
He certainly has no intention of dropping Frankel back in trip – that would favour Black Caviar – but a £1m showdown in the Sussex Stakes is still a possibility.
“I have been very impressed by Black Caviar and she’s obviously very, very good and very consistent,” he said.
“I would love them to meet because I think it would be good for racing. It would be lovely to have champions from Australia and England taking on each other.”
Yet, as Cecil implied, such talk is premature until Frankel makes it a perfect 10 out of 10 in the Lockinge today.