Was Frankel the best horse ever?

Between August 13, 2010 and October 20, 2012, Frankel won all 14 of his races, including ten at Group One level and, in so doing, became the first horse since Abernant, in 1948, 1949 and 1950, to be the best of his generation at two, three and four years, according to Timeform. Indeed, following an 11-length win in the Queen Anne Stakes, over a mile, at Royal Ascot in June, 2012, Frankel was awarded a provisional rating of 147 – the highest ever in the history of Timeform – and the same rating, again, following a 7-length win in the Juddmonte International Stakes, on his first attempt over a mile-and-a-quarter.

The following January, his Timeform Annual Rating was confirmed at 147 and, according to World Thoroughbred Rankings, he was rated 140, making him the highest-rated horse in the history of that organisation, too. However, the 2012 World Thoroughbred Rankings did involve what was called ‘historical recalibration’, which saw the rating of the previously highest-rated horse, Dancing Brave, reduced from 141 to 138.

Frankel was widely hailed as the ‘best horse ever’, but it is worth remembering that Timeform ratings were only first published in 1948 and until fairly recently only included horses that raced in Britain. Similarly, World Thoroughbred Rankings were only first published in 1977 and before 1995 did not include horses that raced in North America. Frankel was, probably, the best horse of the modern era but, because he cannot be compared, at least not empirically, with the champions of yesteryear – such as Kincsem, Man o’War and Secretariat, to name but three – whether or not he was the best horse ever is really just a matter of opinion.

What is a Pattern race?

In Britain, a Pattern race is a thoroughbred horse race in the upper echelons of the sport, in terms of prestige and value, although the Pattern is different for Flat and National Hunt racing. For Flat racing, the European Pattern Race system – which, as the name suggests, covers not only Britain and Ireland, but France, Germany and Italy – was introduced in 1971. For the first time, Pattern races were arranged, by importance, as Group One, Group Two and Group Three races. In Britain, Group One includes the five ‘Classic’ races and other major international races, such as the Eclipse Stakes and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Group Two includes international races of lesser importance, such as the Great Voltigeur Stakes, and Group Three includes races mainly of domestic importance, such as the Craven Stakes.

By contrast, the National Hunt Pattern, which was introduced in 1969, covers Britain alone. In 1989, under the auspices of the Jockey Club, the National Hunt Pattern was completely overhauled to create the series of Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 races that form the basis of the current Pattern. Unlike the European Pattern Race system, which creates a seasonal structure for non-handicap races, the National Hunt Pattern includes several important handicap races, not least the Grand National, itself, at Grade 3 level.

Both Pattern systems are under constant review and both Group and Graded races can be upgraded, or downgraded, from one season to the next, as necessary.

What is Godolphin?

Named after the Godolphin Arabian – one of the founders of modern thoroughbred bloodstock – Godolphin is the thoroughbred horse racing and breeding operation founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who, since 2006, has been the Ruler of Dubai. In Britain, Godolphin relies on trainers Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby, both of whom divide their years between Dubai and Newmarket, while the famous royal blue silks are most often worn by retained jockeys James Doyle and William Buick. At the last count, the Godolphin operation had produced 5,415 winners, including 297 Group One, or Grade One, winners, worldwide since 1992, at a strike rate of 20%.