For Frankel, the world’s highest-rated racehorse, the script was always pure Hollywood.
The unbeaten colt, retired to stud on Saturday after 14 glorious victories, is named after American trainer Bobby Frankel who died of cancer three years ago.
Frankel’s gaunt but ever elegant trainer is Henry Cecil, who is battling cancer and whose voice has been reduced to a whisper by his latest bout of chemotherapy.
Cecil’s eloquence did not desert him in the Ascot unsaddling enclosure, however, after Frankel provided the perfect grand finale with victory in Saturday’s Champion Stakes on soft going he clearly did not relish.
Cecil, who has spoken movingly of how Frankel has helped sustain him in his fight against cancer, said: “I cannot believe in the history of horse racing that there has ever been a better racehorse.”
That is some statement from a man who has trained 25 British classic winners and triumphed 75 times at Royal Ascot.
When Eclipse took to the track in the 18th century, up went the cry: “Eclipse first and the rest nowhere”. He never got beaten in 18 races.
Three hundred years later, and worthy of the same adoration, Frankel is off to stud, hopefully to create future champions. Valued at an estimated 100 million pounds ($160 million), he is now worth 14 times his weight in gold.
There will be no such luck at stud for French veteran Cirrus des Aigles who battled in vain on Saturday to lower Frankel’s colours at Ascot. He is a gelding.
Saudi Prince Khalid Abduallah was lucky enough to own sensational Arc winner Dancing Brave, one of the greatest thoroughbreds of the 20th century. With Frankel, he found out that lightning really can strike twice in the same place.
Jockey Tom Queally, who started out in Ireland as a pony racing champion, rode Frankel to every one of his 14 victories over three years.
After Saturday’s final, emotional triumph, he was in his usual state of euphoria. “He is unbelievable,” Queally said of the horse that changed his life.
Racing rarely makes the headlines in soccer-obsessed Britain but Frankel’s final race was televised in 86 countries and camera crews flocked in from around the globe.
Bookmakers were laying odds that Frankel would put in a Christmas television studio appearance at the BBC sports personality of the year show. The last and only horse to do that was Red Rum, the triple Grand National winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Saturday’s race ended on a note of symmetry that brought the Frankel story full circle.
In his first race as a two-year-old in 2010, Frankel won by half a length from Nathaniel in a Newmarket maiden.
On Saturday, Nathaniel ran his last race too and finished third to Frankel.
Admiring the sheer majesty of Frankel, Nathaniel’s trainer John Gosden summed it up neatly for a sport which may never see his like again: “What a great horse.” ($1 = 0.6241 British pounds) (Editing by Clare Fallon)