BY FAKHRY ASA’AD
Title: Frankel: The Greatest Racehorse Of All Time And The Sport That Made Him
Author: Simon Cooper
Publication year: 2020
Publisher: Harper Collins
In horse racing, greatness is defined by speed. Being the second fastest counts for little. You have to win. And win. And keep winning until every challenger of your generation is put to the sword. Of the twelve horses lined up on Newmarket Heath that 2011 day, one would do just that, and more, to become the greatest racehorse that has ever lived.
Ask any fans of horse racing, and they must surely be aware of the mighty Frankel and his remarkable story. After all, he is the horse against whom all others are inevitably judged following his 14-race unbeaten career.
He became the undisputed poster boy of British racing while leaving every challenger of his generation behind between 2010 and 2012, and he continues to add to his legacy as the sire of superstars such as the indomitable Cracksman and St Leger winner Logician.
His exploits on the track are well documented and his powerful running style was as familiar to us as Roger Federer’s backhand or Jonny Wilkinson’s conversions. With this in mind, the onus was very much on Simon Cooper to provide a fresh perspective in this book.
Frankel was born on February 11, 2008, with four white socks and a blaze, from impressive equine lines on both his parents’ sides. Simon Cooper revisits the whole of the horse’s life, giving readers an inside tour of the calm oasis that is life a stud farm, where a foal will live with his mother for the first year of his life.
The union between Kind, Frankel’s sprinter mother, and his father, Galileo, a middle-distance specialist, was no accident, but it was a freak all the same. Cooper estimates that such are the complexities of equine sperm and eggs, Kind and Galileo would have to create a foal every year for the next 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 years to produce another Frankel.
Cooper’s real skill lies in detailing Frankel’s day-to-day life at Warren Place stables, where everyone from training riders to grooms dedicated their lives to the horse. Next, the atmosphere of heady possibility that marks the early days of training that includes roadwork, gallops and trials. If it all sounds too good to be true, so was Frankel. The story was how his trainers turned Frankel’s raw potential into something more. And how Frankel begins to set himself apart.
This book detailed and fast-paced narrative breathlessly to recount the racing career of the horse who, by his retirement to stud at the age of four, would be rated the greatest of all time.
Cooper weaves the horse’s tale with those of his trainer, the stablehands who coped with his explosive nature, the work rider who tamed him, the jockey who piloted him in all fourteen of his races, and the owner who saw his potential from the very beginning. The result is a rich and multifaceted tale of modern horse racing, the lives of everyone involved, human and equine, and the glory of winning.
It was a tall order for anybody but the author rises to the challenge by focusing on the first-hand stories and small details behind the legend of the horse, which is mostly concerned with his invincibility.
The author also visits the studs and tracks that staged Frankel’s story, transporting the reader with his vivid descriptions, such as the “dusty-pink mock Tudor, faux Elizabethan house” that was once home to Sir Henry Cecil.
While the horse is undeniably the star of the show, this book is about so much more than just Frankel and its author succeeds in producing an intimate portrait of his trainer and his battle with cancer. This is exemplified by his passage on Frankel’s penultimate win at York.
Cooper captures the crowd’s affection as Cecil stood with his pride and joy in the winner’s enclosure: “The full-throated appreciation adds a sort of poignancy. Everyone knows the sands of time are running out for both, in different ways and to different places.”
Cooper takes intriguing tangents aplenty, whether detailing the life of Prince Khalid’s phenomenally successful American trainer Bobby Frankel (whom the horse was named after) or the history of thoroughbreds, all of whom descend from three Middle Eastern stallions, imported around the turn of the 18th Century.
An emotional journey comes to an end with another visit to Banstead Manor and the author telling Frankel he was grateful to have known him. Thanks to Cooper, and his dedication to colouring in the blanks in this famous story, we can now know Frankel a little better too.