Caviar was second best

There may have been two headline acts at Royal Ascot but our columnist believes only one confirmed their superstar status more »

Monday, July 2, 2012

An unworthy thought in the aftermath of Royal Ascot was that at least our big horse had proved better than their big horse, that Frankel’s reputation had been enhanced while Black Caviar’s had diminished.

All sorts of clichés regarding Britain’s historical relationship with Australia played through my mind as I calculated this as proof positive that we were the superior racing nation. People like me should be transported to Botany Bay.

For what seemed like weeks we endured the Antipodean press pack telling us about Black Caviar’s brilliance and superiority. It grated a little, just as it does when we eulogise about our horses at the Breeders’ Cup. It creates a sense of schadenfreude.

It’s almost as if the guests are saying “our horse is better, therefore our sport is better”. From there it is only a small press room psyche step to “we are better”.

So a part of you ends up hoping that a horse you’ve never met, never touched and never even lost money on doesn’t win a race. It’s this bit of self which should be chained below decks on a prison ship.

Black Caviar was admirably travelled across the world to showcase her talents and remains unbeaten. That she almost met defeat in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes was largely the fault of jockey Luke Nolen, who tried to kid us all there was more in the tank than fumes.

There are now 22 straight wins in the book, which, on one simple reading at least, makes her twice the horse that Frankel is. It was a peculiarity of the royal meeting that it was a show run in reverse. The biggest name on the billboard was the very first act on in the Queen Anne Stakes.

There is much to thank Frankel for, not least his regular reminder that we are dealing with wild animals here. Racehorses are not pets, a point Sir Henry Cecil’s colt enforces during his every woken moment.

It was as if you’d asked Sir Henry Cecil to run the horse in the Pardubice

At Warren Place he confirms rock star status by occasionally smashing up his box. If he could drive, he’d park his expensive vehicle at the bottom of a hotel swimming pool. He’s a beast.

On the racecourse, you can almost see a fizzing fuse reducing into the ball of flesh that is his body. Tom Queally may be at the controls but we know who is in charge.

Frankel is now so omnipotent in his sphere that fiendish targets at either end of the distance spectrum in various parts of the world are being set for him. Cecil is not having any of it. When it was suggested that Frankel might show another set of New Worlders at the Breeders’ Cup his merits (and, by extension, ours) a strange look came across Sir Henry’s face. It was as if you’d asked him to run the horse in the Pardubice.

I’m sure Henry said after last year’s Sussex Stakes that Frankel was the best horse he had ever seen – never mind trained – but he was more circumspect at Ascot. Yes, Frankel was a champion at the royal meeting, but then so had been Kris and Ardross before him.

This was probably a defence mechanism to stop the trainer from gushing. However, after your livelihood and perhaps even your life seem to be slipping away, it might be easier to remain sanguine about even a horse like Frankel coming along.

Now all Sir Henry has to do is keep his head while some commentators around him are losing theirs. He never lost trust in himself as many men doubted him, and he also understands the impostors of triumph and disaster.

Not even Cecil, though, can prepare his colt of a lifetime for the race some have imagined. Frankel might be all right, the bright sparks say, but how would he fare in a spectral race against great milers of yore, the likes of Brigadier Gerard, El Gran Senor and Tudor Minstrel? I suspect he’d win because the others are getting on a bit.

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