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Frankel's Finale

10/21/2012

Horse racing is full of Hollywood-worthy stories, but it often stumbles when it comes time for the fairy tale ending. Perhaps on British Champions Day, somebody thought to show Frankel the script.

The handsome bay horse ended his career a perfect 14-for-14 in front of a packed house.

It is the way it is supposed to go, but so rarely does. I just have to think back to two weeks ago when I watched a small Japanese girl burst into tears when her country's beloved Orfevre lost the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at the wire, or two years ago when I watched grownups burst into tears when Blame beat Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

But on this particular Saturday, with this particular horse, things went the way everyone wanted them to go. It was a privilege to get to see it in person. High definition television is a wonderful thing, but nothing compares to being there and taking it in with your own senses.

Anytime a horse with freakish talent comes along, it opens all kinds of debates. I tend to think Monday morning quarterbacks have nothing on passionate race fans. For the purposes of this column, I would just like to address one common complaint that I have heard about Frankel: that he never ran in the United States.

Now, obviously I would have loved for him to run here, but there are two problems with that scenario.

One, although I love turf racing, by and large it is treated like the red-headed stepchild of American racing. It seems a bit ironic to demand a turf horse come over here when it is an established fact our turf program is not nearly as strong as Europe's. For those who feel he should have run on dirt, we will just have to agree to disagree. Dirt and turf racing are two different things and in the part of the world where Frankel was bred and campaigned, turf is king.

Two, the British people deserved to see their hero run his last race. If Frankel were to come over here, it likely would have been for the Breeders' Cup, which would have also likely been the last start of his career.

Imagine if Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra or Cigar or any other vastly popular American horse ran their final race an ocean away? Even if they won, it would be like winning the World Series when you are the away team. No one is ever going to complain about winning anywhere, but winning in front of the home crowd carries something extra special.

The Brits may have a reputation for being reserved, but that went out the window the second Frankel entered the parade ring on Saturday. He received a standing ovation the second the crowd spotted him, and the Queen herself came down to see him. Frankel's warm up in front of the stands received more cheers than most horses get for actually winning a race, and needless to say, when he came charging down Ascot's track to claim victory, the roar of the crowd went along with him.

Probably my favorite thing about racing over there that is different from home is how the winning horse is congratulated. Instead of being quickly whisked away after a winner's circle picture near or on the track, the top finishers all get to go back to the parade ring to be admired. After the photos get taken, the winner gets to do a victory lap around the parade ring.

You can imagine the scene when Frankel was taking his final loop around the crowd.

The moment that solidified my belief that it was only right he run his last race in Great Britain came when it was time to lead him back to his stall. The crowd gathered itself to say one final goodbye, and then wildly started cheering again. Instead of exiting stage right as expected, Frankel's handlers led him around the parade ring an extra time.

For many fans, that will be the last time they ever see Frankel in person. They deserved that moment.

Even the folks at Juddmonte couldn't have imagined the success Frankel would have when they chose that moniker.


Too often we get so wrapped up in figuring out how things could be better or different or more to our liking that we forget to take in what is in front of us.

What was in front of everyone at Ascot that day was a magnificent animal that did everything he was ever asked to do. The fact he was named in honor of late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel makes his career even more remarkable. Plenty of people have hopes their youngster is going to be the next great thing, but even the folks at Juddmonte couldn't have imagined the success Frankel would have when they chose that moniker for him.

There will be plenty of time to debate the politics of international racing, retirement and race records, but for now, I just want to tip my hat to Frankel. I have absolutely no issue in saying that he is truly a great horse and racing was lucky to have him.

Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at amanda.duckworth@ymail.com.