Before Frankel, which was the highest-rated horse in the history of Timeform?

On June 19, 2012, Frankel recorded what the Racing Post reported as an ‘extremely impressive’ 11-length victory over Excelebration in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot and, in so doing, became the highest-rated horse in the history of Timeform, which first published ratings in ‘Racehorses of 1948’. As confirmed in ‘Racehorses of 2012’, Frankel was awarded a rating of 147, 2lb superior to Sea-Bird, who was beaten just once in an eight-race career in 1964 and 1965 and awarded a rating of 145 after winning all five starts as a three-year-old. Sea-Bird raced just once in Britain, effortlessly beating Meadow Court and twenty other rivals by two lengths in the Derby without coming off the bridle.

Later in 1965, Sea-Bird was sent off 6/5 favourite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, despite facing the strongest field of middle-distance talent ever assembled, including the hitherto unbeaten Prix du Jockey Club, or French Derby, winner Reliance. Despite sweating profusely in the preliminaries, Sea-Bird was travelling well in fifth place approaching the home straight and, thereafter, came clear of his rivals along with the eventual runner-up, Reliance. Sea-Bird veered alarmingly across the track in the last half a furlong or so, but still won by an official margin of six lengths, with Australian-born jockey Pat Glennon patting him down the neck in the closing stages.

What is Timeform?

Timeform, which was founded by the late Phil Bull in 1948, but is now part of the Paddy Power Betfair Group, is a highly-respected sports data provider. Timeform, as a company, is well-known for its various publications, including its ‘Racehorses’ and ‘Chasers & Hurdlers’ annuals, ‘Black Books’ and daily racecards, but is probably most famous for its private handicapping, or performance rating, system, also known as ‘Timeform’.

Timeform ratings, which have been available on the Flat since the late Forties and over Jumps since the early Sixties, express, in Imperial pounds, the calibre of each horse, so that the runners in any given race can easily be compared. In fact, such is the credibility of Timeform ratings that they are considered, by many industry professionals, to be the definitive, if unofficial, measure of thoroughbred performance in Britain and beyond.

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.

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