10/17/2012 4:00PM

Ascot: Frankel likely to get soft ground for Champion Stakes

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Frankel, with Tom Queally aboard, races beyond a mile for the first time in the Juddmonte International and wins by seven lengths.

For months the plan has been to send the great Frankel to the breeding shed after his swan song in the Champion Stakes on Saturday at Ascot. Mother Nature, however, has no intention of seeing Frankel ride off into the sunset.

It was raining Wednesday in south central England, and as far as meteorologists could tell, it was going to continue to rain all the way through Champions Day, when Frankel is all but certain to make the final start of an already legendary career. The clerk of the Ascot course on Wednesday termed the going soft, and if the forecast holds, the ground – at least in some places – could be labeled heavy come race day.

There had been rumors that the Champions Day race order might be shifted to move Frankel’s spot nearer the front of the card, putting him on turf less chewed up by previous runners, but Ascot officials said that the Champion Stakes would go as planned, as the fifth of six races.

Frankel’s connections have expressed no strong reservations about course conditions. Frankel worked on soft going last week and, according to his exercise rider, got over it without incident. Thirteen of Frankel’s 14 starts – all victories – have come on turf ranging from good-soft to good-firm, but he did win his career debut over Champion Stakes rival Nathaniel running on soft ground at Newmarket, though his half-length margin of victory there was the smallest of his career.

More recently, Frankel has been thrashing foes by historic margins: His four Group 1 victories this season have come by 29 lengths combined. Stretched out to 1 1/4 miles for the first time Aug. 22 in the Juddmonte International, Frankel won by seven lengths.

While Frankel’s connections, owner Juddmonte Farms and trainer Henry Cecil, have yet to announce formally that Frankel won’t run again after the Champion, the race is widely expected to be his last. It could also prove his toughest. The wet going works in favor of Frankel’s strongest rival Saturday, Cirrus des Aigles, who won the Champion over So You Think in 2011. Cirrus des Aigles won the Oct. 6 Prix Dollar at Longchamp by nine lengths while racing over heavy going, and in April, running on a similar sort of course, captured the Group 1 Prix Ganay by eight lengths.

Nathaniel figures to be the third betting choice for the champion, while soft-turf-loving German invader Pastorius will receive a small measure of support.

The Champion is one of two Group 1 races on the Saturday program at Ascot. The other, the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, is headlined by Excelebration, the excellent Aidan O’Brien-trained miler who had the misfortune of being born the same year as Frankel. Excelebration, a Breeders’ Cup Mile candidate, will be joined in the QE II by established Group 1 milers Elusive Kate and Cityscape.