10/21/2012 12:57PM

Is Frankel an All-Time Great?


There is no denying Frankel’s greatness as a race horse. But is he one of the all-time greats?

How could anyone truly know?

Without question, and by a long way, the horse I consider the greatest of my racing lifetime was Secretariat. Secretariat did things that, until he came along, race horses just could not do. And I’m not thinking only about his Belmont Stakes here, although that should be enough to win the discussion. I’m also thinking about his first turn of the Preakness, his Marlboro Cup, his Man o’ War, heck, his Hopeful. There is a reason why Secretariat remains the standard by which the modern thoroughbred is measured.

But for other people, it’s Seattle Slew, or Affirmed, or Spectacular Bid, or Zenyatta who rings their bell. That’s fine. Many years ago there were a few old timers who told me independently that Citation was better than Secretariat. One of them told me, and the words still ring in my ears, that Citation could have beaten Secretariat “pulling a wagon.” This guy was sharp, very sharp, and he wasn’t kidding. I laughed as though he was, though, knowing that he was way off base like I know that, while Secretariat had a couple of off days, at anywhere close to his best, he would have run rings around Slew and The Bid, and everyone else. Rings, I’m telling you. I know this with every fiber of my being, but of course, it is impossible to prove and is, in the end, only my opinion, although it is shared by many others.

The point is, evaluating great horses from different eras (or even years) is an extremely subjective exercise. At least here in the U.S., we have speed figures to help with such comparisons. Of course, there is a subjective element in making speed figures, too. A racing surface that one speed figure maker finds fast by one second, another figure maker might find fast by 1.5 seconds, and that will create a difference in the end product. But at least speed figures are grounded in one totally objective component: Time.

In Europe, the most popular race horse ratings incorporate some far more subjective factors, the most glaring of which is the quality of the field. Another component in these ratings, the level of the race, is something you would think would be more of an objective ingredient in this mix, but often isn’t. For example, we know that not all Grade 1 races are equal. I don’t think you could find even anyone at Keeneland who thinks the Darley Alcibiades is as strong a race as the Santa Anita Handicap. But they’re both Grade 1’s. Incorporating the face value of level of a race can be misleading, but adjusting for obvious disparity between races within a certain level adds yet another layer of subjectivity. Either way, you wind up farther away from objective analysis.

You can sit around all day and compare Frankel’s ratings to the European superstars who preceded him, but if those ratings are largely subjective, what is the value of comparison beyond entertaining discussion? Instead of trying to determine whether Frankel is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with Mill Reef and Sea Bird, maybe it’s better to simply acknowledge Frankel as being a great horse, and leave it at that, even if that is a little unsatisfying.

And I don’t believe for one second that Citation could have beaten Secretariat. Forget about pulling a wagon, with a head start.

David Jaenke More than 1 year ago
Man O War never beat anybody but a broken down Sir Barton.
Cindy More than 1 year ago
This author is entitled to his overlydramatic opinion! I notice he doesn't mention anything about the truly greatest, Man O' War. And, Count Fleet if ridden out in the Belmont, well, who knows. Count Fleet is 2nd best, I agree with Johnny Longden.
ghost2_ More than 1 year ago
I would have enjoyed this piece more without all the Citation bashing.
Cindy More than 1 year ago
That's all Secretariat fans know how to do is bash other great horses to enhance Secretariat.
Curtis V Slewster More than 1 year ago
Kevin Ryan, The half sister to Dr. Fager you were looking for is the great Hall of Famer{1994}... Ta Wee..........The same dam to the great Dr..........Aspidistra..All Champions.........Ta Wee was 21/15-2-1.........Champion Sprinter in her 2 yrs. of racing...69-70..........
Jonathan Yarde More than 1 year ago
Forgive him. He wasn't born yet, but he knows a hell of a lot about Ribot.
Spicer Mitchell More than 1 year ago
He was the best Europe has had to offer. Hopefully he isn't another Cigar!
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
I totally agree with your assessment, Mike. I saw most of them race, and, although they all had that greatness about them, Big Red, was somehow, truly special. His Belmont, well, what can you say.? Unbelievable,? I saw Slew win the triple, and thought he was special. Until, another horse equals, what Big Red accomplished, he will always be the model, they will have to strive for. Respectfully, John Nicoletti, Naples, Florida
Heather McLeod More than 1 year ago
When it comes to great European race horses I have to go with Nijinsky (II in the USA), he won the English triple crown after a large gap of time (Bahrain in 1935, Nijinsky in 1970 and then no one since). He was undefeated in his first 11 races but after a bout of ringworm appeared to lose his fire and managed to only get the shows in his final 2 races ( the Arc and Champion Stakes) losses by a head and a neck respectively. He then went on to have a great carreer at stud, only time will tell if Frankel can show as much as Nijinsky did
Jonathan Yarde More than 1 year ago
Not show, place. He finished 2nd to Sasafras at Longchamps and then, in an effort to retire him on a winning note, they brought him back to Newmarket for the Champion where he suffered almost an Onion-like 3/4L defeat by Lorenzaccio. Lester had told O'brien after the Arc that the horse had gone off form.
Helmut B More than 1 year ago
Actually, Frankel ran sectionals (yes, some people do have them) which were completely off the chart, even in his first two races. Time-wise, he was truly exceptional.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
Kind of funny I see the arguments over Dr. Fager right after I watch a video of the 1967 Woodward (billed as "Race of the Century" and arguably STILL can be considered the biggest non-Triple Crown race of the past 50 years). That was the Woodward where Dr. Fager was softened up by Hedevar (Damascus' stablemate who actually set the world record for a mile in 1966 only to see it broken by Buckpasser, the third part of that Woodward break it a week later). Damascus, Dr. Fager and Buckpasser were all deserving Horses of the Year in their respective years (Buckpasser in 1966, Damascus in '67 and Dr. Fager in '68) and Damascus and Dr. Fager were also part of what is still likely the greatest three year old crop of all time (1967) that also produced three-time turf champion Fort Marcy, who would at age six be Horse of the year for 1970. As for Frankel, he is a great horse, but there will always questions because he never raced outside England nor did he ever race on truly firm ground like we do here nor did he ever race 1 1/2 Miles. Had Frankel come here and run in the BC Turf at 1 1/2 Miles, I suspect on firm-to-hard ground Frankel would break Hawkster's world record for 1 1/2 Miles of 2:22 4/5 if he truly is the champion everyone feels he is.
AZ Wildcat More than 1 year ago
Breaking Hawkster's world record is probably not going to happen, it was run at Santa Anita and 12F is run from the top of the hill making the time artificially fast.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
Um, this BC Turf is being run over the very same course Hawkster set the record over.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
secretariats competion wa a lot more suspect than frankels.look it up sham may have been a very good horse but who else was there.some of the horses who beat secretariat were not all that special and there were a few of them after all he lost 5x.prove out,onion,stop the music,etc.his belmont was very visualy impressive and was very very fast but again there were only 4 horses in the race and other than sham the other 2 were hopeless.now i understand that secretariat was a great horse but those that denegrate frankels achievements by saying he faced nobody are just plain wrong he actualy faced much stronger fields than secretariat ever did with the exeption of maybe one race the malboro cup were he faced stablemate riva ridge and key to the mint to me that was his best race.
Jonathan Yarde More than 1 year ago
Ray, You made some points that I tried to the other day, but 4 some reason this blog is constantly having technical difficulties. Anyway u're wrong on 2 counts. The 1st is a fact; he wasn't beaten by Stop The Music, he was DQ'd. The 2nd is an opinion held by both Watchmaker and I. His Man O' War was 1 of his best. It seems that few people commenting here ever hear of Tentam. At 3 he was 2nd to Key to the Mint in the Travers and at 4 broke the world record at 1 1/8 on the turf also at the Spa. I was a Big Red fan in '73, but never thought that he was invincible. I couldn't have picked Onion in a million years, but I did bet on both Prove Out and Tentam to beat him. You all know what Prove Out did, but in the M O' W Tentam made 2 runs at Red, who led almost wire-2-wire, and was repelled both times as he drew of to win in hand. The Canadian Intn'l proved nothing. It was a weaker field and he (and Tentam) had already slaughtered Big Spruce in the M O' W. Now can we stop and move on to the BC?!!
Jonathan Yarde More than 1 year ago
Wrong on 3 counts. I forgot to mention that the Belmont had 5 not 4 runners. Your point about the pigs behind him is valid, however. http://www.belm­ontstakes.com/U­serFiles/file/1­973.pdf