Horse racing is one of those sports that isn’t; or, at the very least, a sport not universally popular. After all, it remains a sport fairly niche and class-based. Many also argue that is the horse is the one who does most of the work; and yes, while jockeys are extremely athletic – able to stand on the balls of their feet for minutes on end at 40+mph, in wind, rain and hail – it is hard to dispute who exerts the most effort.
Questions also have to asked about the cruelty and dangerousness of the pursuit with whipping of the horses a familiar sight and over 800 steeds killed whilst or because of racing in the last 5 years in the UK. And lets be honest, when gambling and betting is a sport’s ultimate role – and is a market worth $115 billion worldwide – it can easily be disputed as a true sport.
Nonetheless, there are a few occasions when such things are forgotten; when a icon transcends the very sport that they are competing in. Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, of the early 2000s (and now albeit due to blood doping) are just a few such examples; these are men that brought their sport unprecedented greater – and global – attention due to their feats in the sporting arena as well as their personality and story outside it.
For the last two years, horse racing has had its very own superstar; a 5ft 4.5ins, half-a-ton, bay-coloured racing machine name Frankel.
Since his debut, on 13th August 2010, Frankel and his jockey Tom Queally raced to a win a small class 4 race in Newmarket, the pair have remained undefeated, beating horse after horse slowly growing acclaim and attention. In a sport as unpredictable as horse racing, such a feat is unknown and heralded.
Indeed, with some close wins early on, it was not until his win in the 2000 Guineas of 6 lengths – which was 15 midway through the race and the biggest margin in 50+ years – started the public fascination with the equestrian beast; the sheer breathtaking speed and destruction of his opponents leave the public in awe, winning his races by a combined distance of over 76 lengths.
For the experts, Frankel was immediately seen to be so good that he was made odds-on favourite in every race, but his first. A £1 stake on his 14 wins would have made a profit of just £5.96; in a sport dominated by gambling, Frankel made betting a bit pointless.[quote align=”left” name=”Tom Queally” role=”Frankel’s Jockey”]Everything I do from now on is going to be an anti-climax, isn’t it? I won’t find another one like him[/quote]
So what makes this horse so good? He has that something special – the unique one-in-a-million characteristic that brings him away from the pack – with a stride that, when needed, allows him to accelerate away and destroy the competition, estimated at about 22ft long, as opposed to 20 to 21ft for many other racehorses. In a way, Frankel is the Usain Bolt of horse racing, with that turn of foot that pulls him through and away even when against top class athletes – indeed, some have even nicknamed him Usain Colt (though he can ran 100m nearly as twice as fast as the Jamican)
Where this giant stride comes from has proved unanswerable; he has big feet, with a shoe size of 7.5 in the front and 7 behind compared to an average of 5, he eats a lot (over 35,000 calories a day) and also like a good sleep; generally, however, he is just like an other horse.
Frankel’s story is more than just of a great horse, however; his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, has been battling stomach cancer for the last 6 years with the horse’s progress acknowledged as something that has kept him going through some of the darker times of his illness and treatment. It is this background that has captured the hearts and minds of many.
And so, last Saturday came the grand finale; Frankel’s last race in the Champion Stakes which holds one of the richest prize’s on offer in UK flat racing.
Would it be the fairy tale ending that so many wanted? Sport often has no place for such sentiments; Zidane’s headbutt in the 2006 World Cup Final, Radcliffe’s failure to ever get an Olympic medal, Liu Xiang’s infamous Beijing disappointment etc. etc.
Soft ground after heavy rain – the softest he had ever faced – looked to threaten Frankel’s record. Then, as racing began; a poor start threaten it further, as Frankel went slowly out of the stalls starting several lengths back, looked to show the nerves of both horse and rider.
But, in the end, nothing was to stop the wonder horse; with 32,000 people cheering him on and with 2 furlongs left, he upped his pace in his trademark manner, streaked past the field and and galloped through to remain undefeated, beating Cirrus Des Aigles by a length-and-three-quarters.
14 out of 14, unbeaten to the end; Frankel is the best ever race horse in our lifetime, perhaps ever.