Henry Cecil

Henry Cecil

Anne M. Eberhardt

Ailing Cecil Grateful for Frankel

Henry Cecil prepares unbeaten colt for career finale in the Champion Stakes (Eng-I).

There will be mixed feelings at Ascot on Saturday, Oct. 20, when the brilliant Frankel makes his farewell appearance on the racetrack in the QIPCO Champion Stakes (Eng-I).

The large crowd that is expected to attend is fully prepared to send Frankel off with a rousing ovation befitting a true champion. On the other hand, there will be the sadness of saying goodbye to one of the most exciting horses ever to grace a British racecourse.

That sadness will be felt most of all by Frankel's trainer, Henry Cecil, who credits the horse for helping him persevere through his battle with cancer.

To Frankel's credit, he will not perform his swan song against a mediocre field of horses whose purpose is merely to serve as window dressing for Frankel's final coronation and another of his patented processions. The son of Galileo, who has won all 13 of his starts, will have to face top-class group I winners Cirrus des Aigles and Nathaniel, both championship-caliber stars in their own right. And he'll have to do it over soft ground that he is for the most part unaccustomed to.

Whatever the outcome, Frankel will always hold a special place in Cecil's heart, as the legendary trainer is well aware how much the horse has meant to him.

"I am so lucky to have been allocated Frankel to train," Cecil said. "He has been an inspiration and challenge, which I really needed so badly. Through my illness, I feel that the help from my wife Jane and the determination to be there for Frankel has helped me so much to get through the season."

Cecil does not wish to let this opportunity pass without thanking his staff, especially Frankel's exercise rider Shane Fetherstonhaugh, for all their help in making Frankel the iconic figure he has become.

"What Frankel has achieved during the past year is outstanding, but I would not like to take all the praise. There are a lot of people at Warren Place who have all played their part with Frankel and I really appreciate everyone's efforts, not the least Shane Fetherstonhaugh's.

"This season, Shane has ridden Frankel entirely at home. I've managed his training schedule and preparation, but Shane has carried out the orders to perfection. So, perhaps, it could be said that we—Shane and I—have trained Frankel together."

While racing fans in America lament over never having had the opportunity to see Frankel run, especially considering that he was named after the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, the only important thing now is the task at hand. It would have been fitting for Frankel to compete in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park, where his namesake had most of his success, but it is not to be.

The Champion Stakes, part of the QIPCO British Champions Day, will be Frankel's second career start at 1 1/4 miles and only his second start beyond a mile. Cecil is convinced the Juddmonte-owned colt is coming up to the race as good as possible.

"I was very pleased with Frankel's final piece of work," Cecil said. "He gives the impression that he is better than ever and still improving. I could not be happier with him. He seems full of himself and, considering the time of year, he is really good and healthy in his coat. He eats everything put in front of him."

As for the testing conditions likely for the Champion, Frankel won his career debut at Newmarket on soft going, but that was the only time he has raced over deep ground.

"I am pretty confident he will be fine in soft ground, but if it's heavy we are in no-man's land," Cecil said. "He has never encountered it and, with his action and turn of foot, I cannot be sure that he would appreciate it. "

Cecil says he has a great deal of respect for Cirrus des Aigles, winner of last year's Champion Stakes, and Nathaniel, winner of the 2011 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I).

"It will be far from an easy race with Cirrus des Aigles and Nathaniel in the line-up," he said. "They are two good horses who will go in the ground and get the trip really well. They have to be really respected."

But the Champion Stakes and Champions Day will be all about Frankel, and if he runs as expected, the cheers will be heard all the way to, well, let's say Santa Anita.