In the absence of an objective measure of the abilities of racehorses from different generations, any discussion of the ‘greatest’ racehorses of all time is inevitably highly subjective. According to Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings World, formerly Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings, which began in 1977, Frankel, who retired, unbeaten, in October, 2012, is the highest-rated horse in the history of official classifications. Even so, Frankel only achieved that position after a controversial ‘recalibration’ of the ratings, which saw Dancing Brave, winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1986, downgraded by 3lb.
Timeform agrees that Frankel is the highest-rated horse, on the Flat, at least, since its first ‘Racehorses’ annual, published in 1948, 2lb superior to Sea Bird, winner of the Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1965 and fully 7lb superior to Dancing Brave. Timeform also has Arkle, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966 at the head of its all-time list of steeplechasers; his rating of 212 is 20lb superior to any steeplechaser, bar stable companion Flyingbolt, in over five decades. According to Timeform, Brigadier Gerard, who tasted defeat just once in his eighteen-race career in the early Seventies, is rated 3lb inferior to Frankel, but must be considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time. So, too, must Eclipse, who won all eighteen starts between April, 1764 and February, 1789 without being asked a serious question.
Of course, the name ‘Frankel’ is well known in horse racing circles as the name of the horse that retired from racing, unbeaten in fourteen races, in October, 2012 and was subsequently named the highest-rated horse in the history of World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings and Timeform. Owned by Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud and trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel was named in honour of the late Robert Julian Frankel, who died of leukemia, at the age of 68, in 2009.
Robert Frankel, affectionately known as ‘Bobby’, was one of the most successful American racehorse trainers in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer five times, in 1993, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003. Indeed, in 2003, Frankel saddled 25 winners at the highest Grade One level, thereby setting a world record for a single season, which would last until 2017, when surpassed by Aidan O’Brien.
The late Sir Henry Cecil, who died of cancer on June 11, 2013, at the age of 70, is best known as the trainer of Frankel, the highest rated horse in the history of Timeform and World Thoughbred Rankings, who retired, unbeaten in 14 races, in October, 2012. However, while Cecil, who was kinghted for services to horse racing in 2011, may have described Frankel as ‘the best horse I’ve ever seen’, he was arguably one of the greatest trainers in history.
Unfortunately his career was overshadowed by controversy but, in his heyday, between the late Seventies and early Nineties, Cecil was Champion Trainer ten times. Overall, he saddled 25 British Classic winners and was particularly adept with fillies, winning the Oaks eight times, including with Fillies’ Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp in 1985, and the 1,000 Guineas six times. He also won the Derby four times, including with British Horse of the Year, Reference Point, in 1987, the St. Leger four times and the 2,000 Guineas three times. Until June, 2018, when Poet’s Word, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, won the St. James’s Palace Stakes, Cecil also held the record for the most winners at Royal Ascot, having saddled 75 in his long, illustrious career.
Bred and owned by Juddmonte Farms, under the auspices of Khalid Abdullah, and trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel won five times at Ascot in all, but just two of those victories came at Royal Ascot. Indeed, on the first occasion, as a three-year-old, on June 14, 2011, Frankel came as close to defeat as he did in his entire 14-race career. Fresh from an impressive 6-length win in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Galileo colt was sent off at 30/100 to win the St. James’s Palace Stakes at the Royal Meeting. However, having taken a 6-length lead with a quarter of a mile to run, Frankel was quickly coming back to his rivals inside the final half a furlong and had to be ridden out by jockey Tom Queally to beat 20/1 chance Zoffany, trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, by three-quarters of a length.
The following season, as a four-year-old, Frankel contested the opening Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, for which he started a hugley prohibitive 1/10. Nevertheless, his cramped odds proved entirely justified as he soon quickened clear, despite drifting slightly right in the closing stages, for an extremely impressive 11-length win over old rival Excelebration; in so doing, Frankel achieved the highest rating ever achieved by a Flat horse in the history of Timeform.