There have nonetheless been a couple of cameos in recent days, both elaborating a theme of fathers and sons, that may yet prove more significant in the long term even, than the most show-stopping performance at the Royal meeting. If it does not turn out that way, you could accuse us of undue melodrama, particularly as bloodstock’s “fundis” need no reminding that these remain the very, very earliest days for Frankel. They also know that few rookie stallions in history have been rewarded with so many matrons of pedigree and stature in their first books, but the one thing you can’t ignore is the familiarity in his first runners that is simply too arresting to ignore; two more debut winners this past week took his tally to four from five. I have to confess, that when Cheryl and I were in Newmarket last year as guests of the English National Stud, we joined the growing chorus who’d seen his first foals and thought them a rather mixed bunch, so for a stallion whose connections harboured the same hopes as those of Secretariat’s in the 60s, this is as good an outcome as any they could wish for.
Even in the context of a sensibly managed first book, Frankuus barely repaid his sires covering fee as a €130,000 yearling, but he surfaced at Haydock with a buoyancy and gusto that certainly evoked, even if in the smallest degree, the blend that made his sire unique. In this, of all weeks, when they laid another legend, Muhammad Ali, to rest, it seemed apt to remember Frankel as a champion who floated like a butterfly, and stung like a bee: he covered the ground so lightly, yet with great physical zest.
Just as Frankuus vividly betrayed his inexperience, his daughter Fair Eva jumped green at the same course, but soon found the typical rhythm that angled her way across and through the entire field, and by half-way, she floated clear, again under no more than hands-and-heels encouragement. With his first two winners heading to Royal Ascot this week, the world can only hope that something of Frankel’s prowess might yet endure in more concrete form than our memories.
You just have to love Chris McGrath’s weekly ramblings as he invariably finds a unique angle on what others might regard as a mundane topic. The other father and son story of the week was of the human variety: Frankel was not the only remarkable sire to stamp his stock indelibly in the week. The world knows that the intuitions of horsemanship of Aidan and Anne-Marie O’Brien have been inherited by their children, as riders: in the wake of his weight issues in the saddle, the oldest, Joseph, was forced to quit, but it only seemed a matter of moments before the dividends accrued in his new career as a trainer. While he has already secured the support of Sheikh Fahad, the relatively everyday provenance of many of his horses should be food for thought for those Irish trainers who complain that they face an unequal struggle in taking on the blue bloods of Ballydoyle.
Most would consider his father’s modesty and manners a handsome bequest on their own, but Joseph, whether by nature or nurture, has clearly gained more besides. Which is why his father Aidan, could never have resented defeat less than when a heavily-backed favourite of his was beaten last Sunday by Justice Frederick (Lawman). His first runner as a licensed trainer, ridden by his brother Donnahcha and home-bred by neighbours in County Kilkenny, ran down his father’s charge and is now headed for Royal Ascot. One way or another, it is proving a race to remind us that “the son also rises”.
Today heralds the beginning of racing’s greatest festival, Royal Ascot; the Melbourne Cup may stop a nation for a day, but the Royal Meeting stops the world for a week. That’s the truth about this phenomenal celebration of pomp, ceremony and the classiest exhibition of Thoroughbred endeavour, anywhere. Fans of our sport are indebted to Queen Anne who transformed the naked heathland at Windsor Castle into the arena for England’s most famous sporting tradition in 1711. Since then more money, more pride, more pedigree and more champagne has been splurged on the outcome of the events of these four days than on any other sporting action in the world.
It takes a special kind of animal to make the “cut” for Royal Ascot, let alone win there, and many of those that have distinguished themselves have long since graduated into racing and breeding’s Hall of Fame. The breed-shapers, from Hyperion to Ribot, Sadler’s Wells to Danehill and Frankel, they all passed Ascot’s way, and who knows what this year’s events, commencing today, might hold?
THE FIRST DAY’S SPORT
Highlight of the first day is invariably the mid-summer “European Guineas”, the St James’s Palace Stakes (Gr1), which this year brings together the winners of the English Guineas (Galileo Gold), the Irish Guineas (Awtaad), and the French version of the same race, The Gurkha. They all arrive with lofty aspirations, and the St James Palace is invariably the event that separates the men from the boys. If you’re anywhere near the television set this afternoon, this is prescribed watching (channel 239 on DSTV).
Editor’s Note: The race was won in arresting style by Galileo Gold from an unlucky The Gurkha, and Awtaad. Funny how cream always gets to the top.