I have been lucky enough this year to be present at two of the most exciting days in Sporting history, the first earlier in the Summer in the Olympic stadium when Usain Bolt won the Olympic gold 100 metres, that night I was with over 250,000 other people in the Olympic park and the place went wild, and the second was at Ascot on Saturday when the world’s greatest racehorse ran his last race in front of a capacity crowd that went equally wild, writes ROSE LEHEUP.
Both occasions were “ I was there” moments and have, without getting into the realms of hyperbole, seem to have come at a time when we in the UK have so needed our spirits lifting. The first person I met on walking in was Lord Grimthorpe, Frankels owners racing manager. I knew then the soft ground didn’t matter. Frankel would win, it always works for me, if I back the horse connected to the first person I see, they always win. “Teddy” I know quite well from having been thoughtfully sat next to him courtesy of a wonderful Royal Ascot promotion dinner in the Jockey Club rooms in Newmarket a few years back and so after a lovely double kiss greeting my next stop was to find a bookie offering better odds than the 1-4 on the Tote. Incidentally if you are ever in Newmarket go and have a look inside the Jockey Club. Its beautiful, with stunning artwork.
Lots of wonderful racing scribes have told us how Frankel won his last race on Saturday, it wasn’t with the ease with which he won the at Newmarket, Goodwood and York but there was still no doubt at all and yet again he made it look effortless. He could have done without the rain that had poured down all Friday and made everyone nervous that he wouldn’t run, not least the Press officer at Ascot who had sold out on the back of Frankel running, as it happened it didn’t make any difference but to me that showed what a remarkable champion he is. He not only beat two mud loving rivals in the French and Irish horses but he beat very testing conditions.
The omens weren’t particularly good when the Irish won the first four races and the ground was cutting up as badly as I have seen it at Ascot at the end of the summer but his omens were not demons, he put on his wellies and went for a nice hack round a racecourse. He didn’t even raise much of a sweat and hardly pricked his ears when the whole crowd went bonkers. I have never seen such a cool champion. He was cheered as soon as he came out of the saddling box, cheered again all the way down to the Parade ring and then given an almighty cheer when Tom Queally was legged up. Black Caviar had a similar reception at Ascot this summer but that was slightly muted as we don’t like to be too supportive of the Ausies.
Everyone came out of boxes, the weighing room, valets from the changing rooms, ladies from the cloakrooms, the Queen from her box and we all stood and watched just one horse. He couldn’t care less, he ignored us all. Every now and then he took a sideways glance at the crowd but it was only a bored disdainful look. As relaxed as Usain, he knew what he was there to do. He was going for a nice little hack with some mates. I was lucky enough to be in the Press box and could see the whole of the crowd, including the Queen from where I was first sitting then as soon as the gates opened, standing. Everyone was on their feet from the start, Frankel ignored that and did his own thing and went to sleep. The gates burst open, the crowd went mad and then Frankel like a great champion decided he would emerge. Henry Cecil, his trainer, said like a teenager he loves his food and his sleep and has got the horse so chilled out that he decided to give the others a head start. Off you go guys, I’ll give you two lengths. A few jocks might have just panicked but not the 12 year old looking, cool as a cucumber, Tom Queally, he didn’t throw his reins and panic but played Frankels game. Ian Mongan on Bullet Train, his pace maker, was a little panicked and started craning his neck to find out where the hell he was but no panic guys I want to check out the opposition and with a view to making it out in the stallion barn next year I am going to come in from behind. Now the crowd are on their feet, even the Press guys who have been around for so long that their defining moments were seeing a man land on the moon and having to run to the public telephone box to send their copy through when Dancing Brave won. Frankel runs wide, and nobody is going to do him any favours but he doesn’t need favours or luck. Great horses don’t need gaps, they make gaps. He could have stopped and picked at a bit of grass and still would have got his nose in front, like Usain he is the best in his sphere, he knows he’s the best and he makes it look effortless.
For the first time in his races I saw Tom give him a smack, I don’t think it made a jot of difference but maybe made Tom feel better but really there was no doubt, no tension anywhere amongst the crowd, we were just enjoying it so much because we knew he was going to win. Even the Bookies were cheering, it was magical and the only place it could have happened was Ascot. It was right to happen at the World best racecourse, they put on show after show for us and make racing exciting. They fill the stands year after year and fill the course with people coming to be entertained, people that frequently know nothing about racing but they come for a good day out and to spend their hard earned. Ascot recognises this and entertain. They so deserved to host this momentous occasion and with the incredibly generous sponsorship of Qipco, who throw millions of pounds on offer on the day it truly can be billed as Champions Day. We do pomp and ceremony well in this Country, we did it well for the Olympics and Ascot do it well for racing. Everyone wanted to be there on Saturday, it was sold out Months ago and when it was announced this week that the Queen would be attending we knew the celebs would also be out in force.
It seems like these momentous wins always have a momentous battle going on in other areas. I am thinking back to Red Rum and Bob Champions battle with cancer and I wonder if the fates play a role when deciding where these greats should be trained.
Frankel has been bred in the purple, bred by his owner, Prince Khalid Abdulla, who incidentally only likes to be known as Mr. K. Abdulla, in the racecard and the result of a swapping of Coolmore and Juddmonte services to mares. He isn’t a particularly big horse, about 16hh, beautifully put together but I have seen better and he isn’t particularly imposing. He does have the biggest feet I have seen on the racecourse and when you stand and look at him you just wonder what actually makes him so special. His price tag is apparently now at around £100million, not that he will ever be sold because that sort of money won’t make a jot of difference to his Arab owners lifestyle, but you wouldn’t say by looks alone he would win all 14 of his races, 10 of them at Group 1. Its when he starts to move that you realise you are watching an unbeatable champion, he moves with the same effortless grace as Usain Bolt. You just know they can step up a gear if they need to and can do it whenever they want to. Its that that makes us stop and marvel, Usain can cover 200 metres in 19 seconds, Frankel does it in 11.
The fates have not been particularly kind to Sir Henry, Frankel’s gentlemen trainer, he has had enormous challenges in his life and the only low point for me on Saturday was hearing and seeing him struggle with his huge battle with stomach and now chest cancer. His voice was but a whisper and there is no doubt he is a very poorly man. He’s always been vain, he would admit that himself and is the smartest most dapper gentlemen on a racecourse, known for his brightly coloured socks and felt trilby which he always raises when greeting anyone and must hate losing most of his hair to the dreaded chemo. He’s had desperate years, especially after Sheik Mohammed took all his horses away, and lesser men probably would have given up but his attitude that “ you lose more than you win but you keep going” has kept him going and he has stated that Frankel has kept him going this last year. Apparently he hasn’t missed a day at work apart from hospital days and I have no doubt in my mind that without each other this would not be the success story that we are all writing about now.
Sir Henry recognised he had greatness in his yard at Warren Place but he had to nurture that and it hasn’t all been plain sailing. He has turned the wilful 2 year old headstrong colt in a suave sophisticated James Bond. His form line of 111/11111/11111 is the 007 equine equivalent and without Henry Cecil as his trainer and mentor I don’t believe Frankel could have boasted those statistics. A few press hacks have been harking on about their disappointment in the teams decision to now retire him to stud but I think Khallid Abdullah is actually being thoughtful and sensitive. I believe he is thinking more of his trainer and less of his pocket. Making more money doesn’t make this quiet humble Arab tick, its the love of racing. Prince Abdullah knows it is time for Sir Henry to reflect and to sit in front of the telly watching replay after replay of Frankel’s wins. I am sure he will be up on the gallops day after day but now he doesn’t have quite the pressure and doesn’t need to stand in the cold and wet on a grey winters day.
There is no doubt Frankel has got him up in the mornings but also no doubt that the time has come for his life to be a bit easier. No-one has supported Sir Henry through thick and thin like Prince Abdullah and like the true gentlemen he is I believe he has other reasons for his decision. Frankel, Sir Henry and Tom Queally are a team, Prince Abdullah, the most loyal patron a trainer could ever have could not think of a day without one of those key players. Price Abdullah lost one of his other great trainers to that most horrible of killers and out of respect he named Frankel after him, in my own little way I would love to do the same. With Mickey Goss’s permission I would like to name our Discover Diamonds colt, born in the early hours of Saturdays race, “Sir Henry” . I have followed this great trainer for a large part of his career as he was one of my Dad’s favourite trainers and have spent a few memorable evenings in his company at functions and he is truly a lovely man. Our little colt won’t have a clue as to why he has the name but if he has half the guts and determination of this wonderful namesake then we might just have a winner.
I watched Usain Bolt and Frankel win remarkable sporting feats and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that I will never see anything like it again. God I’m so lucky!