It was the race that formally announced to the world that the career of an exceptional racehorse was underway. “By golly, he looks a champion,” marvelled BBC TV commentator J.A. McGrath as the young colt eased across the line 10 lengths clear in the G2 Royal Lodge Stakes of 2010. The famed Aussie race-caller has never made a more accurate assessment.
Frankel had won his first two races well enough - a half-length victory in a Newmarket maiden and a runaway 13-length romp in a three-runner affair at Doncaster. But this was different. This was the Royal Lodge, the historic 2-year-old contest that had been a stepping stone for four subsequent Epsom Derby winners and a host of other classic and G1 scorers.
And the field that day wasn’t too shabby either. Those left in the Juddmonte juvenile’s wake included subsequent Irish Derby and G1 Secretariat Stakes winner Treasure Beach and future three-time U.S. G2 winner Slim Shadey.
The one-mile Royal Lodge was run at Ascot back then, but it has a new home now - Newmarket, where it is a significant ingredient in the three-day Cambridgeshire Meeting, which starts today.
Saturday’s running is one of two ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifiers for Breeders’ Cup races, the other being tomorrow’s G2 Rockfel Stakes, a prestigious seven-furlong test for 2-year-old fillies (the Royal Lodge is a pathway to the BC Juvenile Turf, the Rockfel to the Juvenile Fillies Turf). The Royal Lodge shares Saturday's outstanding card with two other well established 2-year-old races - the Cheveley Park Stakes for fillies and the Middle Park Stakes for colts, both over six furlongs and both Group 1s.
And, with a delicious touch of symmetry, two of these four superb races could do the same for Frankel’s reputation as a young sire as that Royal Lodge did for his reputation as a young racehorse six years ago.
Of course, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s greatest champion, who went through his time on the racetrack unbeaten in 14 runs, 10 of them Group 1s, has made a truly impressive start to his stallion career this season with 11 winners of 20 races to his name, including one G2 and two G3s. Now, though, the action is being taken up a notch.
This week’s races constitute the first major opportunity in Britain this year to gain some real insight into the true quality not only of the leaders of the current crop of 2-year-olds but also of the current crop of first-season sires. And Frankel is handsomely represented.
His Khalid Abdullah-owned daughter Fair Eva (out of African Rose), already a G3 winner, is odds-on favourite for the Rockfel, another race that has an impressive history as a producer of future stars; and his daughter Queen Kindly (Lady Of The Desert) is involved in what could be the race of the meeting in the Cheveley Park.
Queen Kindly, who got the better of Fair Eva (the two are currently disputing favouritism for the 2017 1,000 Guineas) in the six-furlong G2 Lowther Stakes at York last month, is second favourite behind the explosive U.S.-trained G1 Prix Morny winner Lady Aurelia, described by trainer Wesley Ward as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ filly. But Queen Kindly’s trainer, Richard Fahey, is confident in his own horse’s ability.
Referring to Lady Aurelia’s stunning seven-length victory in Royal Ascot’s G2 Queen Mary Stakes (five furlongs), Fahey told the Racing Post this week: “It was an awesome performance … but she looked very strong and forward then, and maybe we’ve caught her up a bit.”
Fahey was also asked about Ward’s ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ comment over Lady Aurelia. Could the same be said of Queen Kindly? “She is in my lifetime anyway,” he told the Post.
All of which augurs pretty well for Frankel’s growing reputation as a sire. Indeed, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the next few days may give expert stallion assessors good reason to say of him: “By golly he looks a champion.”