Unbeaten superstar Frankel will line up against no more than six opponents
when returning to action in Saturday's Group 1 Lockinge Stakes over a mile at
Newbury. Two of those are pacemakers -- his own, Bullet Train, and Aidan
O'Brien's Windsor Palace, who hopes to set the stage for stablemate
Excelebration, the presumptive second choice behind Frankel's odds-on
Frankel has made a habit of obliterating his rivals, and Excelebration has been one of his highest-profile victims -- in their mutual sophomore bow in the Group 3 Greenham Stakes at this course, in the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and in their 2011 finale, the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes back at Ascot October 15.
Excelebration was best of the rest in the Greenham and Queen Elizabeth II, and a troubled third in the St James's Palace, but was put firmly in his place on each occasion. Yet the Exceed and Excel colt is hardly a slouch himself, and has won six straight when getting away from Frankel, highlighted by last season's Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, Group 2 Hungerford Stakes and Group 2 German Two Thousand Guineas.
Transferred from Marco Botti to O'Brien over the winter, Excelebration made a winning debut for the yard in the Group 3 Gladness Stakes on April 22 at the Curragh, where Windsor Palace played the rabbit. Having that run under his belt is helpful, but not enough to suggest that he can spring a staggering form reversal.
Excelebration's connections must instead hope to catch Frankel on an off day. The possibility of that raised recently when Frankel endured a minor injury in training, but judging by his latest gallops, the Sir Henry Cecil charge is once again his usual scintillating self.
"Considering Frankel had a 10-day setback," Cecil said, "I am pleased with the progress he has made in preparation for the Lockinge at Newbury on Saturday.
"Some of the opposition have had a race, which is a great advantage, but I feel he has done enough to give a good account of himself.
"One thing I am pretty sure about is that he will come on for the race and will be a stronger and more settled horse this year."
Regular rider Tom Queally will be back aboard Frankel, while Joseph O'Brien has the return call on Excelebration.
Trainer Richard Hannon also has entered a pair, Strong Suit and Dubawi Gold. Like Excelebration, both have been drubbed by Frankel before.
Strong Suit at least had an excuse in his only prior experience of Frankel, a tailed-off sixth in last year's Greenham. It's worth remembering that he rated as the 9-2 second choice that day. Found to have a breathing problem, he was a new horse after throat surgery and went on to win three of his next four, comprising the Group 3 Jersey Stakes, Group 2 Lennox Stakes and Group 2 Challenge Stakes.
Strong Suit then suffered a bad trip in the Breeders' Cup Mile, but is entitled to do much better back in more congenial surroundings. Hannon has warned that he'll scratch if the ground is too soft.
Dubawi Gold, a distant second to Frankel in last spring's Group 1 Two Thousand Guineas, has had a mostly frustrating time since. Although a cut below his stablemate Strong Suit, he's capable enough at his best, as evidenced by his terrific fourth in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile in December. His last is a throw-out in light of the impossibly heavy going at Sandown.
Rounding out the field is Ransom Note, whose biggest career wins have come when he's allowed to dictate on the front end. Between his lackluster recent form, and the presence of the two rabbits, he looks up against it.
The same could be said, of course, for all those challenging Frankel, and the race revolves around his quest to extend his mark to a perfect 10-for-10.
Cecil is looking forward to getting him started again, and ultimately to stepping him up in trip to 1 1/4 miles.
"He's got a lot of energy," Cecil said. "It may take a race to sort him out, but I think as time goes on, like last year, he'll settle well.
"We're obviously going to start at a mile. It's a question mark at (Royal) Ascot whether we'd go a mile (in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes June 19) or a mile and a quarter (in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes on June 20). Maybe he will stay at a mile.
"He will step up (in trip) later in the year, I'm sure. He's got to tell us it's the right thing to do. Whether it be Eclipse time (Group 1 at Sandown on July 7) or whether it be Juddmonte time (the Group 1 Juddmonte International on August 22), there's a good chance that he will.
"He'll tell me what I should do. At the moment I'm rather veering towards two races at a mile, the Lockinge and Royal Ascot, before thinking of going further.
"I think he'll stay, but then again let's see how he races, how he settles.
"It would be nice for him to go a mile and quarter. If you're just taking on the same two or three milers all through the year, it's not the same as hopefully getting on top of them and then having the chance of taking on the mile and a quarter horses. Then you're taking on the best over two different distances."
But if Frankel ends up sticking to a mile, the logical target after the Queen Anne would be the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on August 1. The son of Galileo is the defending champion, having humbled the likes of Canford Cliffs there a year ago.
A Sussex title defense could also involve a tantalizing clash with the world's other undefeated phenom, Australian sprinter Black Caviar, who would be stretching out to a mile.
"I have been very impressed by Black Caviar and she's obviously very, very good and very consistent," Cecil said.
"I would love them to meet because I think it would be good for racing. It would be lovely to have champions from Australia and England taking on each other.
"I think the only race they could possibly meet would be the Sussex."
Later in the fall, Frankel is expected to make a second appearance at British Champions Day at Ascot on October 20. He captured the QEII that day last year, but could try the Group 1 Champion Stakes over 1 1/4 miles this time.
"By that time we'll have a much better idea whether he gets a mile and a quarter well," Cecil said. "We can take it from there. It would be one or the other.
"He could come back from a mile and a quarter to a mile. I think we'll leave it all open."
Cecil praised the sportsmanship of Prince Khalid Abdulla, who could have easily retired his homebred to stud at the end of 2011.
"It was marvelous for the Prince to keep him in training. A lot of people commercially would have retired him," the trainer observed.
"I'm glad he did because I think he's a stronger horse now and hopefully he will be even better.
"If you have a horse of that caliber, they don't come along every day and they don't grow on trees.
"It's nice to actually see his full potential, and the Prince has taken that chance."