Handicapping Insights


OCTOBER 26, 2012

by Dick Powell

Being a fan of the immortal Dr. Fager, I have no use for rabbits. Their only intention is to soften up an opponent for a stablemate which, in my opinion, only hurts the horse they are supposed to be helping.

Dr. Fager was as competitive as any horse that ever raced and would resent anyone even racing near him. When asked, "who was better; Dr. Fager or Damascus ?? the answer is Dr. Fager since he did not need a rabbit to win.

As great as Damascus was, and he was one of the greatest 3yos the sport has ever seen, he still needed a rabbit to beat Dr. Fager.

In Australia, not only are rabbits frowned upon but basically banned. The rules of Australian racing are that each horse has to be ridden to its best advantage and sacrificing your own chances to win to help a stablemate is not allowed.

Usually, the rabbit is in the race to insure a demanding pace, which is bad enough. But when a horse is ridden like Bullet Train was in last Saturday's Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot, you have to wonder why it is allowed at all.

In what was the mighty Frankel's last race, trainer Henry Cecil entered Bullet Train, a three-quarter brother, as a pacemaker to insure that the race did not turn into a stroll in the park followed by a madhouse sprint to the wire. I guess that is okay but things abruptly changed when Frankel dwelt at the start.

Instead of Bullet Train going to the front and Frankel drafting in behind him, Frankel was at the back of the pack and Bullet Train's rider, Ian Mongan, was looking for a way from Tom Queally to get up behind him. While the race was being run, here was Mongan looking behind him to see where to place Bullet Train so that Frankel could get behind him.

When he realized the original plan was not going to happen, Mongan then sent Bullet Train up to the lead to harass Cirrus des Aigles for as long as he could. Even the track announcer said, "Bullet Train, just trying to make himself a nuisance..." when he went up the inside to mount a suicidal challenge to prevent Cirrus des Aigles from dominating the race on the front end.

When the field turned for home, Cirrus des Aigles had the lead and Queally had navigated Frankel to the outside for a clear run over the final 600 meters. Like all of Frankel's races, it becomes a contest to see which jockey turns his card over last. They want to wait for the last second to do so but Frankel forces them to make their move early since he is looming next to them without expending much energy.

On a course at Ascot that took on rain all week, the riders tried to wait for the last possible second but when Olivier Peslier asked the question of Cirrus des Aigles, Queally responded with his and Frankel forged to the lead. It wasn't as breathtaking as some of his past wins but was still pretty impressive considering the ground he was racing over and how tough Cirrus des Aigles, who won this race last year over So You Think, is.

The track announcer did a great job in the stretch run trying to add drama to Frankel's farewell race. When Queally got into him and began to distance himself from the field, he said "All comers, all grounds, all beaten!" I know announcers plan for these events and it was a great way to finish the 14th win of Frankel's career and will be heard over and over when watching the replay of the 2012 Champion Stakes.

Once the race was over, the usual conversation began as to just how great Frankel is and how does he compare to other immortals of the turf? The British seem to be unanimous that he is the greatest horse they have ever had and he might be.

Unfortunately, if he needs a rabbit to set up his races for him, isn't that a sign of weakness? We race horses to determine who the best are and the best should not need help to prove that they are the best. It might be a small point and chances are, Frankel was going to go 14 for 14, rabbit or not.

I am not in favor of coupling horses into entries but in this case I could see why you would. Bullet Train is a Group 3 stakes winner in his own right and people actually bet on him at 100-1 odds. Don't know why anyone would do that but considering that he was not ridden to his own best advantage, shouldn't he be coupled with his stablemate?

We were able to see how Frankel would respond on ground that he hated while in against top company. Unfortunately, we never got to see him under those circumstances while racing exposed. A rabbit and the execution of the game plan might help you win but, in my mind, hurts your chance at being viewed as the greatest ever.