For all the anticipation surrounding Frankel’s retirement to stud, there lurked that nagging question - how does one even begin to manage stallion expectations for a horse that is deservedly regarded as a true great of the turf?
Here in Juddmonte Farms’ homebred was a horse who retired with a Timeform rating 147, the highest figure awarded in the organization’s history and one that summed up a sublime racing career that had been beautifully handled by Sir Henry Cecil.
That unbeaten 14-race winning sequence was the longest seen in Europe since Ribot, foaled in 1952, and took in ten G1 victories; there was the Dewhurst Stakes that capped a dominant juvenile season, an unbelievable display of front-running power in the 2000 Guineas, that 11-length win in the Queen Anne Stakes and then the Juddmonte International, in which he cruised clear for a seven-length victory. Perhaps it was Cecil who summed him up best when he commented: “He’s the best I’ve ever had and the best I’ve ever seen. I’d be very surprised if there’s ever been better.”
A beautifully-bred horse - by Galileo and out of Kind, a listed-winning daughter of Danehill from a fine Juddmonte family that was originally in the hands of John Hay ‘Jock’ Whitney - Frankel possessed a natural flamboyance that appealed to observers beyond the racing fringe. Unsurprisingly, an array of the world’s elite breeders were quick to use him at his opening fee of £125,000 at Banstead Manor Stud in Newmarket; a snapshot of the support he attracted can be gleaned by the fact that his first book of 131 mares to Northern Hemisphere time included 38 G1 winners and 25 dams of G1 winners.
The hurdle of market approval
Rightly or wrongly, such a high-profile career, not to mention the elite level of support that follows, will often add further fuel to those looking to detract. As such, the idea that he was unlikely to throw a horse as good as himself was one regular remark as was the notion that his early swift start only served to reflect the level of mare afforded to him.
Market approval was another hurdle. Few stallions have come under as much commercial scrutiny as Frankel did in 2015, when his first crop came under the hammer, and while his yearlings hit the headlines that season, notably at the Arqana August Sale (where a filly out of Platonic sold for €1.15 million to Charlie Gordon-Watson) and Goffs Orby Sale (where subsequent listed winner Goldrush, out of Alexander Goldrun, realised €1.7 million to the China Horse Club), the ring also played host to several underwhelming auction performances. The same can be said of any stallion across a sales season but in the case of Frankel, it also made a fast start with his first 2yos that much more important.
Frankel did indeed get off to a flyer when his first runner, Cunco, won his debut for John Gosden at Newbury in May 2016. He went on to run third in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, by which time another first time out winner, Queen Kindly, had gained black type when third in the Albany Stakes.
A first stakes winner was just around the corner as the following month, Juddmonte homebred Fair Eva appropriately romped in the Juddmonte Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot. Others followed; Queen Kindly went on to take the Lowther Stakes at York, Frankuus won the Ascendant Stakes at Haydock Park and Toulifaut took the Prix d’Aumale at Chantilly. It was an excellent start and one that was consolidated at the end of the year when Soul Stirring became his first G1 winner the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in Japan.
Today, with three crops on the ground, Frankel is the sire of 34 stakes winners and 144 winners from 219 runners among 339 foals of racing age foaled across both hemispheres. He currently sits in third on the TRC Global Sires Rankings behind Dubawi and Galileo and ahead of such heavyweights as Deep Impact and Sea The Stars, despite operating with fewer runners.
Indeed, when Mirage Dancer won the G3 Glorious Stakes at Goodwood in August, Frankel became the fastest European-based stallion to hit the landmark of 20 Group or Graded stakes winners. That tally has since risen to 25 and includes a quintet of G1 winners, led by Cracksman, the dual Qipco Champion Stakes winner whose recent retirement to Dalham Hall Stud saw him become Frankel’s first major son to stud in Europe, and this year’s St James’s Palace Stakes hero Without Parole.
Success across the globe
Crucially, success has been achieved across the globe. The stallion has done particularly well in Japan, where his 14 runners include this year’s G1 Yasuda Kinen winner Mozu Ascot and G3 winner Mi Suerte, in addition to Soul Stirring. Meanwhile, a handful of runners bred to Southern Hemisphere time and sent to Australia include G2 winner Miss Fabulass and the G3-placed Merovee. And in America, his band of representatives include G2 winner Fashion Business, the G3-placed Gidu and Chad Brown’s Pebbles Stakes winner Rubilinda (now with Richard Mandella), who remains held in high regard.
It’s a versatile group as well, one that covers 2yos of the ilk of Fair Eva, Queen Kindly and East to G1-winning milers Mozu Ascot and Without Parole, an outstanding middle-distance talent in Cracksman and a top stayer in this year’s Prix du Cadran hero Call The Wind.
The one omission is a European classic winner, although Cracksman came close when third in the 2017 Epsom Derby while Rostropovich ran second in this year’s Irish Derby.
It is true that all bar two of his 25 Group or Graded stakes winners are out of either stakes-winning or stakes-producing mares, something that is reflective of how those early books comprised a group of talent that rarely - if ever - has been afforded to an unproven stallion. But Frankel is undoubtedly making the most of that opportunity and appears poised to maintain that momentum.
Despite the uncertainty that afflicts any stallion in his third or fourth seasons, the quality of his books held steady during those seasons; a 2015 book of 106 mares to Northern Hemisphere time (plus eight to Southern Hemisphere time) included 72 black-type performers, while his 2016 book comprised 130 mares (102 NH time, 28 SH time), among them 76 black-type performers. So far, the resulting 2016 crop has yielded 17 2-year-old winners, including several live classic shots for next year in East, who ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and the G3-placed pair Old Glory and Syrtis, alongside promising minor winners Cap Francais, Suphala, Obligate and Ginistrelli.
In addition, a Northern Hemisphere fee raise to £175,000 for 2018 failed to deter breeders, who between them sent 183 mares. He is set to stand for £175,000 again in 2019.
Galileo has set an unparalleled bar of excellence in the Thoroughbred world, just as his sire Sadler’s Wells did before him. Frankel might not come to exert such dominance but he has been quick to emerge as heir to his outstanding sire and, with several sons already at stud, led by Cracksman in Newmarket and Cunco in South America, there will come to be ample opportunity for his legacy to take hold.