Royal Ascot: Frankel wins but doesn’t get it all his own way
it had been billed as something closer to a ceremony than a horse race.
In the event, however, those who brought Frankel here yesterday themselves seemed to be deceived into some kind of ritual, priestly role.
He won, all right, and so retains an immaculate record of seven wins in seven starts. But Tom Queally did not so much ride a race, as shake the incense of greatness over his mount — and the process seemed to make the jockey rather dizzy.
This year's meeting had threatened to squander its richest interest in its first 80 minutes, with Goldikova and then Frankel arriving as two of the most feted milers of the modern era.
As things turned out, the French mare was beaten a length by Canford Cliffs in the opener; and Frankel appeared all out to hold on by just three-quarters of a length in the St James's Palace Stakes.
Not for the first time, those with only an incidental interest in proceedings out on the track were left to reproach the sport for its excitability.
In reality, however, both races subtly amplified all the fascination that might have been discovered in two easy wins.
Frankel had last been seen annihilating his rivals for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. Seasoned witnesses that day had been staggered by the aggressive deployment of his energy, and gave corresponding credit to Queally and Sir Henry Cecil for their boldness.
This time, however, the jockey, if not the trainer, almost seemed to feel that Frankel's reputation might be dishonoured by tactics purged of melodrama.
If Queally was culpable, he was abetted by Michael Hills, who rode the pacemaker in the same Khaled Abdulla silks.
One of the reasons why Cecil had decided to head for the horizon at Newmarket had been the inadequacy of the pacemaker in his trial, who had made Frankel perilously impatient.
This time, however, the odds-on favourite relaxed serenely while Hills went careering clear. Suddenly, barely halfway into the race, Queally started urging his mount forward.
Having been travelling with delicious comfort, he was suddenly having his ears ridden off.
Frankel obliged by charging out of the pack, rounding the pacemaker, and opening up a lead of half a dozen lengths with two furlongs to go.
At that stage, however, he began to betray either bemusement or exhaustion — both of which would have been entirely pardonable.
At the furlong pole, his pursuers had begun palpably to close, and Cecil confessed afterwards that he had not been at all complacent about Zoffany's late charge.
“That was a bit nerve-wracking and didn't go to plan,” he said.
“I was getting concerned. He's gone to sleep in front.”
It tells you all you need to know that Zoffany had been restrained at the very rear of the field, and while Cecil insists that Frankel was simply bored, on the face of it he has endured an unnecessarily taxing race.
“He settled much better today,” Queally said. “As a result, nobody was inclined to follow Michael and that put me in a tricky position.
“He was running for a long way and started to get a bit fed up in front. He does it all so easily.”
Cecil, saddling his 73rd Royal Ascot winner, drew positives from the experience.
“In a way, it's good he was getting so idle,” he said.
“It means we can settle him in behind now, ride a normal race on him. He's complicated, but he's growing up all the time.
“The plan was to kick rounding the bend, as he had done in the Royal Lodge here last year, but now he's getting wiser and thought he'd done enough. He wasn't at all tired.”
On the same basis, he sounds increasingly disposed to experiment with Frankel over 10 furlongs.
Abdulla would especially cherish a first success in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York in August — a race he sponsors — and it may duly prove that Frankel will avoid a showdown with Canford Cliffs in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.
That would be a pity, because Richard Hannon may feel that the only way for Canford Cliffs to relieve Frankel of top billing is to go toe-to-toe and beat him.
Strictly speaking, after all, Frankel hardly ranks as a superior scalp to Goldikova, who struck for home two furlongs out in the Queen Anne Stakes but was denied a 14th Group One win as Canford Cliffs followed her through to lead inside the last.
Olivier Peslier returned to the scales 2lb overweight — and was fined £650, having weighed out only 1lb over — and technically that would have sufficed to make the difference. Arguably he committed a little early, too.
Certainly, the French mare retains every right to improve her Breeders' Cup record this autumn.
Her three wins there are unprecedented, but Canford Cliffs can now boast a no less remarkable achievement here.
Having won the Coventry as a juvenile, and the St James's Palace Stakes last year, this was his third consecutive win on this card.
“He's the best horse I've ever ridden,” Richard Hughes reiterated. “And today he's beaten the best mare in the world.”
Mind you, if Canford Cliffs merits more attention, then how about poor Robert Cowell and Jim Crowley?
They shared a maiden Royal Ascot success when Prohibit reeled in a variety of overseas speedballs in the King's Stand Stakes.
The Coventry proved less of a novelty, Aidan O'Brien saddling his sixth winner of the race in Power, but the other juvenile winner, Frederick Engels, represented a remarkable breakthrough for one of the sport's minnows in David Brown.