The rating of Frankel as the best Flat horse in Timeform’s history is the most significant thing I’ve been involved with in my time at the company, and in all likelihood will remain so no matter how long my stint in Halifax, the chances of another as good as him coming along in my working lifetime very slim.
The day that he raised the bar was in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot as a four-year-old, but the foundations were laid well before then of course. He ended a stellar three-year-old campaign unbeaten, his scintillating display in the 2000 Guineas resulting in the best timefigure (136) since 1999 – Royal Anthem recorded a 138 when taking the International at York – whilst his QEII win, when routing a field that included four other individual Group 1 winners, earned a figure of 143, one that had only been bettered three times in Timeform history (by Tudor Minstrel, Sea Bird II and Brigadier Gerard).
BETTER AS A FOUR-YEAR-OLD
His reappearance the following spring, in the Lockinge at Newbury, strengthened the view that he’d prove better as a four-year-old. At the time he was credited with the same figure as for his best performance the previous campaign, but there was an argument to say we could have gone higher. Putting the visual impressions to one side (he looked a more relaxed model than the one we’d often seen at three), he again recorded one of the best timefigures in our history and was given no extra on top of the bare rating despite Queally not needing to go for the whip. The pair of match-fit rivals immediately behind him weren’t rated up to their best either, Excelebration – who had won the Gladness Stakes in effortless fashion on reappearance – and Dubawi Gold running 3lb and 5 lb below their master ratings respectively.
On the flip side it was early-season form, which experience tells us can’t always be trusted implicitly, especially when making decisions that have repercussions in the historical pecking order and, more importantly, the standards pointed to a cautious view. Race standardisation is essentially where you look to rate the horse around the race rather than the race around the horse (yardstick handicapping), as it uses a greater sample size and therefore produces more robust figures. It takes into account past runnings of a race, or similar races, establishes the performance levels achieved by the principals in those races, adjusts for things like field size, margins between horses and so on, and uses these in conjunction with the previous form shown by horses contesting the current race, and outputs ratings for the current race on that basis.
This provides a range of ratings for the winner based on historical precedent and is a cornerstone of the handicapping process. The range for that Lockinge suggested a figure in the mid-130s, with a ceiling of 137, so to have Frankel in the low-to-mid 140s bracket was already an outlier, and to go higher still wasn’t the right call at that time.
So to Royal Ascot, and the Queen Anne, where once again Excelebration looked the most plausible danger, that no surprise when you consider he ended his career a three-time Group 1 winner and a bona fidé mid-130s horse. In a contest run in less efficient fashion than at Newbury, Frankel broke 11 seconds for a furlong at least once, despite the track being steadily uphill, which resulted in a lower timefigure and relatively slow final furlong (87.3% finishing speed). However, it also served to break his main rival and emphasise the gulf in class between the pair, Excelebration paying the price for trying to make a race of it – explaining the relatively small margins back to the third and fourth – and wilting late on, 11 lengths the difference at the line this time.
I remember the phone calls and e-mails flying around in the immediate aftermath of the race as we discussed our next step – something of this magnitude was a committee decision. The magic number pre-race was 146, that enough to make Frankel the best Flat horse in our history, but when it came to it even that figure seemed too low. The standards suggested a range of 140-148, and as such an exceptional winner in Frankel had to be rated at the top-end of those standards, with nothing in behind really holding down the form (Excelebration was considered to have run 15 lb below his best form, Side Glance 2 lb below his best and Indomito in fourth 2 lb above his previous best, but he came in for a cracking ride, picking up the pieces late on).
In retrospect, it’s a decision and rating I’m still happy with and if anything could have been a shade higher! As already stated the standards for the Queen Anne gave us scope to go 148 and his win in the International at York – on his first try beyond a mile – backs up that view. The sectional time analysis of the York win point to this figure and, following a familiar theme, the pair who chased him home were again rated below their pre-race best, Farhh (who went on to land two Group 1s the following year) and St Nicholas Abbey (who racked up six Group 1s throughout his career) brushed aside by seven lengths.
Source:: Betfair UK Horse Racing News