By Bill Oppenheim
Every year is important, but 2016 will be especially significant because we will see the first crop of Frankel (Galileo) the freak, the highest-rated and best racehorse of all time. Two laws, or at least tendencies, of Genetics – that any population generally breeds back to the middle; and that outliers (freaks) cannot reproduce themselves anyway – make it not a slam-dunk that he will repeat what he did on the racecourse as a sire. Moreover, two pieces of history don’t contribute to confidence either: Secretariat definitely bred back to the middle (and the jury is out on Sea The Stars in that respect); and – a more immediate worry – Frankel’s first crop of sales yearlings didn’t wow all the judges either. They weren’t exactly offering them at a discount – 19 of 26 offered sold, for an average equivalent to $712,617 and a median of $500,000 – but there were mutterings: he doesn’t stamp them, we heard; they throw to the dam or the damsire, physically.
On the other hand: he really was the greatest racehorse not just of our time, but of all time. Trained by the legendary Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel–named after another legendary trainer, Bobby Frankel–won 14 times in 14 starts, 10 of them Group 1’s, including his last nine starts beginning with the 2011 G1 English 2000 Guineas. We should use the word ‘breathtaking’ sparingly, because Frankel’s race in the English 2000 really was breathtaking. He just gunned clear of his field, and must have been 10 lengths in front after a half–mile. He ended up winning by an official six lengths, but that was only in second gear. He was awarded a Racing Post Rating (RPR) of 133 in that race, probably 10 points better than the average winner. At Royal Ascot, in the St. James’s Palace S. he was nearly caught by, interestingly, Zoffany (Dansili), as Tom Queally, who rode him in all his races, let Frankel loose far too early and he tired up the stretch as Zoffany closed to within 3/4 of a length. It looked like it flattered Zoffany at the time, but considering Zoffany is the Leading Freshman Sire in Europe this year, maybe not.
The St. James’s Palace was Frankel’s seventh start. In his next six starts his average winning margin was 6.6 lengths, before he closed out his career with a still pretty easy 1 3/4 length defeat of Cirrus des Aigles in the 2012 G1 Champion S., his second start at 10 furlongs, and on soft ground. After Royal Ascot he ran twice more as a 3-year-old, defeating Canford Cliffs (who never ran again) by five lengths in the G1 Sussex S. (RPR 137), then whacking Excelebration (Exceed And Excel) by four lengths in the G1 Queen Elizabeth S. (RPR 139) on the inaugural British Champions Day in 2011.
At four, Frankel ran three times at a mile, then stepped up to 10 furlongs for his final two starts. He came back in the G1 Lockinge in May (RPR 139), defeating Excelebration by five lengths. Then he turned in another truly breathtaking performance, powering away by 11 lengths from Excelebration in the G1 Queen Anne S. at Royal Ascot (RPR 143), and followed that up by beating Farhh (Pivotal) by six lengths for his second win in the G1 Susses S (RPR 138). He then stepped up to 10 1/2 furlongs and beat Farhh by seven lengths in the G1 Juddmonte International (RPR 143 again), and finished off in the G1 Champion S. by defeating Cirrus des Aigles, on Cirrus’s favored soft ground, with Nathaniel (Galileo) third and Pastorius (Soldier Hollow) fourth in the six-horse field (RPR 136). So in Frankel’s seven starts – all in Group 1’s, of course – after the St. James’s Palace, his average winning margin was over 5 1/2 lengths, and his average RPR was 139.2. As a racehorse, he was a total freak – the greatest.
We’ve said a number of times in print that proximity to Frankel has to be a strong positive indicator of sire success, whatever he does himself as a sire. Zoffany, who many of us beforehand didn’t even rate as being part of this discussion, turns out to be the first for whom Frankel was a ‘sire pointer’, and Zoffany could hardly have started better: he’s leading European Freshman Sire by progeny earnings by a wide margin, including three Group 2 winners who are all Group 1-placed: the filly Illuminate, and the colts Washington DC and Foundation.
Frankel, of course, stands at Juddmonte’s Banstead Manor Stud, and Zoffany stands at Coolmore. Newsells Park Stud stands Nathaniel, whose yearlings sold well above expectations (76 offered, 57 sold, average equivalent to $163,683, over five times his GBP20,000 stud fee), and really impressed the judges. Nathaniel met Frankel twice, ironically in what was the first and last starts for both horses. In the first, in a mile maiden at Newmarket in August of their 2-year-old year, Frankel beat Nathaniel the a half-length; in the last, Nathaniel was third to Frankel and Cirrus des Aigles in the 2012 G1 Champion S. on soft ground, beaten 4 1/4 lengths. In between, as a 3-year-old, Nathaniel won the G2 King Edward VII S. at Royal Ascot, defeating Fiorente (who went on to win the G1 Melbourne Cup) by five lengths, then upset the previous year’s G1 Epsom Derby winner, Workforce, in the G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S. At four Nathaniel kicked off by defeating Farhh in the G1 Eclipse S. at 10 furlongs; was then beaten by a dirty nose by Danedream in the 2012 ‘King George’; then ran second to Snow Fairy in the G1 Irish Champion S., and third to Frankel in the G1 Champion S., as previously noted. In four of his last five starts Nathaniel ran RPR 127, which is remarkable top-level consistency.
Excelebration, like Zoffany, stands at Coolmore, and like Nathaniel has his first 2-year-olds racing in 2016. Originally trained by Marco Botti, the Coolmore partners bought into him midway through his 3-year-old year, and he moved to Aidan O’Brien for his 4-year-old campaign. At three he placed three times behind Frankel: in the G3 Greenham S., a G1 English 2000 Guineas prep; he was third to Frankel and Zoffany in the G1 St. James’s Palace; and second to Frankel, at Ascot, in the G1 Queen Elizabeth S. on the inaugural British Champions Day in 2011. When not running into Frankel Excelebration won the G2 German 2000 Guineas by seven lengths, and the G1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, at a mile, against older horses. At four he was twice more second to Frankel, in the G1 Lockinge and G1 Queen Anne (by 11 lengths, as mentioned), but then when Frankel stepped up to ten furlongs, Excelebration was an impressive winner of two more one-mile races, the G1 Prix Jacques Le Marois, and the 2012 edition of the G1 Queen Elizabeth S. Excelebration had 53 yearlings from his first crop sell, for an average equivalent to $89,725.
The fourth stallion prospect with close form ties to Frankel, besides Zoffany, Nathaniel, and Excelebration, is Darley’s Farhh (Pivotal). Like the other four, Farhh was a member of the 2008 foal crop, but he ran just once each year at two and three (winning both). He won a Handicap called the Thirsk Hunt Cup in his first start at four, then stepped into Group 1 company, when he ran third to So You Think in the G1 Prince of Wales’s S. at Royal Ascot. He was then beaten a half-length by Nathaniel in the G1 Eclipse S. in early July; then beaten six lengths and seven lengths, respectively, when second to Frankel in both the one-mile G1 Sussex S. at Goodwood, then in the 10 1/2-furlong G1 Juddmonte International at York; and closed out his 4-year-old campaign with a head defeat by the top-class filly Moonlight Could in the G1 Prix de Moulin de Longchamp in early September. At five Farhh started twice and won two Group 1 races, the Lockinge at Newbury in May, and the 2013 edition of the G1 Champion S.
Frankel doesn’t have to be the Leading Freshman Sire next year to become a top sire; Galileo’s first 2-year-olds included exactly one black-type winner in 2005, but when they became 3-year-ods – different story. And even if Frankel proves not to be as good a sire as he was a racehorse (that’s a high bar), the progress of his closest challengers will also be very important. So, observers will be carefully charting not just how Frankel will be doing as a sire, but also Zoffany (first 3-year-olds 2016), Nathaniel, Excelebration, and Farhh. But other point: if Frankel is anywhere near as good as a sire as he was as a racehorse, he could change history.
BEST VALUE SIRE ON THE PLANET: Must just about be Kantharos (Lion Heart), who stands at Ocala Stud in Florida for just $5,000. From 51 named foals in his first crop, 3-year-olds of 2015, he’s sired 45 starters (88%), 34 winners (67%), five Black-Type Winners (9.8%), and nine Black-Type Horses (17.6%), including GIII winners Mr. Jordan and X Y Jet, the latter recent winner of the GIII Mr. Prospector S. against ‘olders’ at Gulfstream Park. As a racehorse, Kantharos was unbeaten in three starts at two, then retired through injury and covered as a 3-year-old. He has almost the exact same profile as Darby Dan’s Run Away And Hide (by City Zip, and another big bargain at $7,500) as a racehorse: in 2008, Run Away And Hide broke his maiden over 4 1/2f at Keeneland, then won the GIII Kentucky S. at Churchill Downs at five furlongs and the GII Saratoga Special at 6 1/2f. In 2010, Kantharos broke his maiden at Churchill Downs at five furlongs, won the GIII Bashford Manor S. at six furlongs at Churchill, then won the GII Saratoga Special. That kind of makes them both the Dark Angels of America, though he was retired through perceived lack of opportunities, not through injury.