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Cecil waits on another potential fairytale

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Oliver Brett | 07:29 UK time, Thursday, 28 April 2011


When the stalls burst open at the top of Newmarket's famous Rowley Mile racecourse on Saturday, at 1510 BST, the racing world will get its answer to a fascinating conundrum.

Frankel will either show himself to be an equine specimen of rare brilliance or simply another thoroughbred who is all hype and hot air.

The bookmakers could not be clearer about their leanings. Not since Nijinsky in 1970 has there been a hotter favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, the first Classic of the British Flat racing season.

It cannot be stressed just how important the race is for the horse, his rider Tom Queally, plus trainer Henry Cecil and owner Khalid Abdulla.

Win the Guineas and win it convincingly, and the season opens up before them, replete with possibilities. He would be a very hot order for the Derby and be in line to achieve something similar to Sea The Stars - the extraordinary winner of Six Group 1 races in six months in 2009.

Lose the Guineas on the other hand, and it would be a party-cancelled, balloons-burst, champagne-gone-flat moment.

Frankel and Tom Queally winning Newbury's Greenham Stakes

Frankel and Tom Queally (pink cap) winning Newbury's Greenham Stakes on 16 April (Getty)

Listening to Cecil - and just as revealingly absorbing his body language - a few days before the 2,000 Guineas is a fascinating exercise.

Self-effacing at the best of times, and never given to bold affirmations of the talent of any of his horses, he nonetheless exudes plenty of confidence that Frankel is a pretty special animal.

Cecil must know. The 10-time champion trainer, now 68, won his first 2,000 Guineas back in 1975. He has picked up the Derby four times, and the equivalent for fillies, the Oaks, on eight occasions. According to his own website he has 389 pattern wins and 35 Classic successes behind him.

He has won top races in France, Ireland and United States, and has more Royal Ascot winners (72) to his name than any other trainer. Cecil has achieved all this despite a long lean spell from the start of the millennium.

He initially coped well when a breakdown in his relationship with Sheikh Mohammed led, in 1995, to the powerful owner removing all his horses from Cecil's vast Warren Place establishment in Newmarket.

Then, in 2000, his twin brother David, a chronic alcoholic, died of cancer. Between 2001 and 2005 Cecil failed to land a single Group One race. By September 2005, having split from his second wife, he found himself 94th in the trainers' championship.

These were worrying times, but Cecil plugged on, telling the Independent at the time: "I could retire and become a member of White's Club [the exclusive Mayfair establishment] and sit there with a glass of port and some stilton and talk all day long about what I've done. But who's interested? Least of all me."

In 2007, he revealed he had been fighting his own grim battle against stomach cancer for nine months, but later that year he was back with a vengeance, winning the Oaks with Light Shift on an emotional June day at Epsom.

Since then, it's been just like the good old days for Cecil, whose nervousness ahead of Saturday's race is endearing. He seems like a teenager before a big date, not the man who has been described as the finest British trainer of the past 50 years.

Henry Cecil, Royal Ascot, June 2001

Cecil at Royal Ascot in 2001, during a tough period on and off the racecourse (Getty)

"You always worry a little bit about things going wrong," he says.

"I've had so many horses prior to big races, and coming to the last week we've had setbacks. You never quite know what's going to happen, you have to accept things and get on with it. Unless you have a little bit of butterflies and things it's not worth doing it. I'm getting used to it but you never completely get used to it."

Frankel is a big, muscular brute of a horse, unbeaten in four races. He has been favourite for Saturday's race since confirming himself the champion juvenile of 2010 with victory in the Dewhurst Stakes last October.

But there were some signals in his only appearance as a three-year-old, at Newbury on 16 April, that might have given hope to some of his rivals.

Channel 4's John Francome warned punters on the day that Frankel was sweating up at the start - rarely a good thing - and pulled very hard under Queally at the start. Then, when finally reaching optimum galloping pace, he hung his head to the right for a furlong or two.

None of that is of any concern to Cecil, however.

"At Newbury he was ready for a race but he wasn't tuned up for it. People criticise the way he won. They said he got upset, which he didn't. He was very, very good and did very, very well," says the 68-year-old trainer.

"He hadn't been on the grass since last year. The all-weather is a tremendous help but I always run them on the bit on the all-weather, and I would like to think he would be a much better horse on Saturday then when he came out and had his introduction."

Frankel is again likely to run with a cross noseband, which is designed to keep his head down when the jockey pulls at the reins.

It is unusual to see any Cecil horses with additional bits of headgear, but the trainer points out his Irish adversary Aidan O'Brien gives nearly all his horses cross nosebands.

Nor should anyone tempted by prohibitive odds of 1-2 be concerned by the horse's ungainly head carriage at Newbury - no more than his natural reaction when the reins are applied, says Cecil.

"I think he's grown up a lot. He is precocious and you could set him alight but he's helped us. We've got to keep him switched off and hopefully he's going to be easier as the year gets on," he explains.

Henry Cecil with Khalid Abdulla

Cecil earlier this month with one of his most loyal supporters, owner Khalid Abdulla (Getty)

"He's very relaxed and he's good in his cantering. When the adrenaline goes he can be a little bit more fiery but on the whole he's pretty good. The trouble is he's got a very long stride, an extraordinary stride when you move him behind [other horses]. He doesn't put his hind legs that far underneath him but he seems to cover an awful lot of ground with his front legs.

"If you're going a normal gallop with him he's slightly restricted because he's got this very long gait. If you can let him just go on and he can use himself as he wants to then he's more relaxed. I don't think it's a problem and hopefully on Saturday he will prove that there isn't."

Frankel completed his final piece of work on Tuesday, tucked in behind a lead horse and allowed to race clear for the last furlong.

Abdulla also owns Rerouted, who will run in the Guineas for trainer Barry Hills and should be able to provide some early pace for the favourite.

"I think he'll probably run very well on his own merit," says Cecil of Rerouted, a 66-1 shot. "Obviously I'd like a decent sort of sensible pace and if I don't get it I'm quite happy to do it myself. We'll just see how it turns out. He could do it if he had to; I'm hoping we don't have to."

Among the chief dangers to Frankel are the two Irish raiders. Pathfork, trained by Jessica Harrington in Moone, County Kildare, is also unbeaten and will be making his seasonal bow. O'Brien's Roderic O'Connor has already been handed one beating by Frankel, at Newmarket last October, but rebounded from that to win a Group One race in France a fortnight later.

Shrewdly, Cecil chooses not to expand on who he believes is his greatest challenger, though he has certainly looked at them: "What one does is go through the intended runners and try to pick holes in them, and try to forget about your own."

In reality, trying to forget about Frankel is not really an option as the hours tick down until Saturday afternoon.

Cecil's final comment sums up the glorious unpredictability of his job: "There's not such a thing as a racing certainty and Saturday will tell us a lot more."


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm 21, and I'd never would have thought I'd see a better horse than sea the stars in my life time, so I'm kind of hoping Frankel gets turned over on Saturday. He is a hell of a horse, but IMO I don't think he would come close to sea the stars. He had everything, most importantly the best turn of foot I've seen in a horse. As for Saturday ill be mightly surprised if Frankel didn't win, but watch out for Pathfork who will run a big race, and at bigger odds dubawi gold could spring a surprise!

  • Comment number 2.

    Frankel is a Wonderful horse. So much potential and you just have to have faith in henry and hope he's what he looked like at ascot. Wonder if just let him stride on into the lead early and 'improve his position' might not be a bad idea if the horse prefers it that way. As for wanting him beaten. Why? Sea the stars, lovely horse. Easily best of his generation albeit a pretty poor one. Best turn of foot ever seen!? Dancing Brave - against a golden generation at longchamp. Now if frankel can do what dancing brave did at Newmarket (outsprinting a champion sprinter) we might really have another superstar. Good luck henry.

  • Comment number 3.

    Cecil knows what he's talking about and has been around longer than the others, so go out there and enjoy yourself. Don't forget to buy me a bubbly if your see a miserable looking guy hanging about in the racecourse. That'll be me and my shadow and pockets empty as usual. Good luck !!

  • Comment number 4.

    Frankel looks an absolute beast and while im not sure i will be backing him at 4/7 although i still might, i am hoping he wins. Im only 21 aswell and i thought sea the stars was a horse of a lifetime but maybe this is the 2nd horse of a lifetime.

    M jack how can you say sea the stars was the best of a poor generation, he beat multiple group 1 winner fame and glory in more than 1 race, he beat multiple group 1 winner twice over, group 1 winners dar re mi and rip van winkle. Plus his run in the arc was spectacular only a great horse would have won that race not just the best of a poor generation and he did that.

    Anyway back to Frankel, i think and hope that he will win. Roderic O'Connor has to be the each way play in the race though at 10s.

  • Comment number 5.

    T-nail thats a fantastic reason to not want Frankel to win lol.You really dont have a clue about horse racing.
    Ive never seen a horse thats been as good as Dancing Brave(yes before you were born),and consequently he is my favourite horse.But im praying that today we see a horse that ultimately wins everything he enters and becomes better than DB.

    You really need to look beyond your vast horse racing experience and realise that it doesnt matter that you think STS was the best, horse racing is all about progression.Its all about wanting to see the good horses become great horses.Whether or not that means your favourite horses get shifted down the pecking order.

    And i for one hopes Frankel wins by 10 lengths on the bridle.

  • Comment number 6.

    Will we see a star today? I reckon so; Frankel looks special and I'd be surprised if he doesn't win well. And Sea The Stars? Well that's in the book - 6 for 6 group 1's as a 3yo including guineas, derby, eclipse and arc cements his place as an all time great. Frankel may be another one, we will see. As to whether I hope he wins, yes I do - unless I lay him in which case I don't. 7/4 against the field though? No I don't think so. A race just to watch. My favourite two horses are Zarkava and Miesque, I have a thing for French fillies.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Personally, I didn't like the way Frankel ran at Newbury but the suggestions are strongly this: that that was simply a blow-away-the-cobwebs performance and today will be completely different. The one for the dual forecast must be Casamento though, the Portuguese for "wedding" - especially after what that handicap chaser did at Fontwell yesterday!

  • Comment number 8.


    Why the hell would you want to see an horse of such brilliance like Frankel get turned over? What kind of comment is that. Henry Cecil of all people deserves another superstar and I hope Frankel is every bit that, Not only that racing needs another superstar as its had a torrid time in recent months. As for Sea The Stars he was a brilliant race horse but for Me Dancing Brave is the best I've seen in My lifetime. His performance in the Prix De L'Arc De Triomphe in 1986 is greatest racing performance from any equine thoroughbred I've ever seen... Even better than Istabraq in his 2000 Champion Hurdle demolition job!

  • Comment number 9.


    Went e/w on pathfork

    no such bravery on dubawi gold!

    hope some did and are enjoying your winnings

  • Comment number 10.

    My earlier comment reads 'might be an idea to let him take the lead and improve his position'. However I was rather hoping he'd take lead and slowly put pressure on a bit like Dubai millenium did at ascot and Dubai. This was a bit liking watching Crisp and Red Rum! Erm. Not sure what to think now. Henry implies he was idling but he had a couple of sharp whips. Six lengths over dubawi gold in a fastish but not record time. Would dancing brave, Nijinsky, zafonic have stuggled to get up to him? Quite possibly. I feel if he could learn to settle he could be extraordinary but I worry about this early blitz style. Can't see it working in derby. I'd go st James palace, see how he settles there and choose between Sussex and eclipse based on that. I reckon there's going to be plenty of different opinions over this. Incredible race.

  • Comment number 11.

    Suppose I still don't know anything about racing? Well my £10 s.f.c, £20 on Frankel to win by more than 3 lengths and dubawi gold 16-1 without Frankel £10 says otherwise....

  • Comment number 12.

    T nail - think you said frankel wouldn't come close to see the stars. Should just let you know that Timeform already rate frankel 10 pounds better at this stage in their careers after today! But what would they know. Do you know anything about racing? Er, no you don't.

  • Comment number 13.

    T-nail thats a fantastic reason to not want Frankel to win lol.You really dont have a clue about horse racing. hemorroides

  • Comment number 14.

    Sea the stars ran it two seconds quicker on similar ground, with no pacemaker...STS is the best miler, best mile and a quarter and best mile and a half race horse of his generation, will we be able to say that about Frankel?


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