Soft Ground at Ascot Awaits Unbeaten Frankel
Great Britain will stage its highly anticipated season finale on Oct. 20 at Ascot, where undefeated Frankel, one of the best racehorses of the modern era, is expected to bring the curtain down on his brilliant career by bidding for a 14th win.
Khalid Abdullah's 4-year-old Galileo colt, Europe's reigning Horse of the Year, will be asked to run on less than ideal turf conditions for the first time as he faces five opponents in the QIPCO Champion Stakes (Eng-I). The centerpiece of the QIPCO British Champions Day includes European champion Cirrus des Aigles and highly regarded Nathaniel.
British Champions Day is the culmination of 35 top British flat races that comprise five championship categories: Sprint, Mile, Middle Distance, Long Distance, and Fillies and Mares. Run at 1 1/4 miles, the Champion Stakes is the apex of the Middle Distance division.
Frankel comes into the Champion Stakes not only as currently the world's top-rated racehorse but also as the greatest horse in the 64-year history of the Timeform ratings. With a 147 rating, Frankel already towers above legendary runners such as Sea-Bird (145), Brigadier Gerard (144), and Tudor Minstrel (144). He could cement his legacy as one of the greatest runners of all time in the Champion Stakes before heading to stud in 2013 at Prince Kahlid Abdullah's Banstead Manor Stud in Newmarket.
Trained by Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel has won 13 races from as many career starts by a combined margin of 74 1/2 lengths, or an average of 5.7 lengths. He can cap his remarkable career with a record ninth consecutive group I victory and 10th overall at the highest level in the Champion Stakes.
Frankel will be asked to compete on ground softer than he has ever encountered, however, as quite a bit of rain fell at Ascot the night of Oct. 16 and a bit more the following evening. Frankel drew post 3 for the Champion Stakes and will start as the overwhelming favorite under regular rider Tom Queally.
Cecil, a 10-time champion who has been battling stomach cancer, told the BBC that softer ground should be no problem for Frankel.
"I don't mind if it is slightly on the soft side," he said. "If it's very heavy, you can be in no-man's land. Soft ground won't bother him at all.
"The adrenaline is going. We've got him so far unbeaten. I'd like him to win at Ascot."
Frankel cantered twice on Cecil's Warren Hill gallops at Newmarket the morning of Oct. 18, pleasing Cecil.
"I could not be happier with him," Cecil told England's Press Association. "He seems full of himself."
Frankel's 4-year-old season began with an injury scare in April that briefly interrupted his training schedule. Once cleared to race he scored open-length wins over Excelebration in the JLT Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I) in May at Newbury and Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) in June at Royal Ascot. Racing beyond a mile for the first time in his career next out in the 1 1/4-mile Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-I) Aug. 22 at York, Frankel handled the distance test with consummate ease, winning by seven lengths from a top-class field that included Farhh, St Nicholas Abbey, and Twice Over.
While Frankel currently is the world's top-ranked runner with a 140 rating, Cirrus des Aigles is ranked second at 130 and Nathaniel is ranked fourth at 126.
Softer going at Ascot could prove favorable to Cirrus des Aigles, arguably the biggest threat to Frankel. The 6-year-old Even Top gelding romped to a nine-length triumph on very soft turf in the Qatar Prix Dollar (Fr-II) on Oct. 6 at Longchamp in his most recent start.
Trained by Corrine Barande-Barbe, Cirrus des Aigles finished second in last year's Prix Dollar before winning the Champion Stakes en route to the Cartier Award as Europe's champion older horse. He earned group I victories earlier this year, winning the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) by a neck on March 30 at Meydan Racecourse and Prix Ganay-Prix Air Mauritius (Fr-I) in an eight-length romp on April 29 at Longchamp. He subsequently finished second to Golden Lilac in the Prix d'Ispahan (Fr-I) May 27 in his start prior to the Prix Dollar.
Barande-Barbe was brimming with confidence ahead of this year's Champion Stakes and a meeting with Frankel.
"If we beat Frankel, for me it will not be such a surprise," she said. "Frankel has never met a horse like Cirrus. My horse was very impressive in the Prix Dollar. He might still be improving. He won't mind very soft ground, but maybe that will disturb the others."
Nathaniel finished second to Frankel in their respective career debuts at Newmarket in August 2010 and meets him for a second time in the Champion Stakes. He won the 2011 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) for trainer John Gosden before finishing fifth in to Cirrus des Aigles in that season's edition of the Champion Stakes.
A series of setbacks delayed his 2012 debut until July but he showed no signs of rust in a front-running win over Farhh in the Coral Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I). Subsequently second to Danedream in this year's edition of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the 4-year-old Galileo colt was considered a top contender for the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) but was withdrawn a few days before the race with a fever.
Other contenders are Frankel's stablemate and three-quarter brother Bullet Train ; 2012 Sparda Deutsches Derby (Ger-I) winner Pastorius; and Master of Hounds, who enters off a victory in the International Topkapi Trophy (Tur-II) in Istanbul on Sept. 2 for trainer William Haggas.
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