05/17/2012 1:11PM

Frankel makes 2012 debut in Newbury's Lockinge


Frankel, easily the top-rated horse in the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities World Thoroughbred Rankings, makes his 4-year-old debut Saturday at Newbury in the Group 1 J.T. Lockinge Stakes, with no more than six foes set to oppose him.

The Lockinge, a straight-course mile over fairly level ground, had been targeted as Frankel’s 2012 bow since his connections, owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms and trainer Henry Cecil, outlined their early-season plans a couple of months ago, but an injury scare in April briefly brought into question Frankel’s participation. Frankel got right again within days, however, and a powerful work at Newmarket last weekend apparently showed Cecil all he needed to see.

Frankel, a winner in all nine of his starts, is as well known as any horse in the world, his lofty reputation challenged only by that of the unbeaten Australian mare Black Caviar, whose upcoming itinerary includes a trip to England and a potential tangle with Frankel in the Sussex Stakes on Aug. 1 at Goodwood. Only twice – in his maiden win over the gold colt Nathaniel and after a premature move in the St. James’s Palace Stakes – has a horse come within two lengths of Frankel, whose brilliant cruising speed typically overwhelms the competition before a race’s final stages.

Frankel also made his 2011 debut at Newbury, winning a Group 3 race by four lengths over Excelebration, who is among the entries for the Lockinge. Excelebration makes his first start for trainer Aidan O’Brien – who also entered Windsor Palace – but he has been soundly beaten by Frankel in their three meetings.

Trainer Richard Hannon also entered two in the Lockinge but said that Strong Suit will not run if the going is rated less than good. Thursday, the Newbury course was rated good-to-soft.

Frankel will be an odds-on favorite to run his unbeaten string to 10, with racing fans just as eager to see how he will come back at age 4 as they are to cash a bet at a minimal return. Bigger challenges than the Lockinge may await Frankel later in the year, when at some point it’s expected he will try to stretch his speed beyond one mile.

◗ Bonfire stamped himself the second-favorite to Camelot for the Epsom Derby with a three-quarters-length win over Ektihaam in the Group 2 Dante Stakes on Thursday at York. On the same card, Izzi Top won the Group 2 Middleton Stakes and is likely to be stepped up to Group 1 competition for her next race.