07/27/2011 2:43PM

Frankel proves a fitting tribute to his namesake

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It turned out to be not much of a contest, that showdown at Glorious Goodwood on Wednesday, where Canford Cliffs brought a butter knife to a gunfight with Frankel.

But that’s okay. Every once in a while a high-stakes blowout is good for the game. Bang-bang finishes are a thrill – witness the Delaware Oaks and Hollywood Gold Cup this summer – but it’s the great solo acts who drive the popularity of the sport. From Man o’ War to Secretariat to Zenyatta and now to Frankel, there is room in the spotlight for only one. Right now, that one is Frankel.

To some extent, Frankel’s performance helps dilute the bitter taste lingering from the last time a top British 3-year-old met a top British older runner, which was last Saturday in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Newmarket, wherein Nathaniel trounced Workforce in the shadow of Rewilding’s fatal injury.

The fact that Frankel and Nathaniel were just a half-length apart last year as 2-year-olds in the only time they’ve met speaks more highly of the depth of the generation than their relative merits. Their paths have diverged, and no one is confusing the two.

During the 2009 racing season, Europeans were enchanted by the relentless excellence of Sea the Stars, a 3-year-old who wiped the cupboard clean. But Sea the Stars made barely a ripple on the American consciousness. At the time, we Yanks were obsessed with the ongoing saga of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. When the people behind Sea the Stars chose retirement over a run at the Breeders’ Cup, that was that. Blink and you missed him.

Frankel, on the other hand, comes equipped with a broad American fan base, and not only because of his name or because of the efforts of TVG and HRTV to provide domestic coverage of his races. Frankel is unbeaten now in eight starts, always a selling point in the U.S. market, and as a stone-cold, front-running miler, he plays right to the American’s need for showy speed. He might be rating early, but he’s still going fast, and his hand-timed closing overs in the Sussex had veteran journalist Brough Scott singing to the high heavens:

“Last four furlongs – 11.16, 10.13, 11.46, and last furlong 12.03. 10.13!” Scott tweeted. “Crikey thats 42 mph.”

Still, there is no getting around the fact that such a good colt carries the name of the iconic American trainer.

Bobby Frankel was already a legend. He didn’t need some racehorse to take his name around the block a few more times. And for those who believe in the transmigration of souls, that perhaps Frankel the Thoroughbred is somehow imbued with the winning spirit of Frankel the man – fuggedaboutit. It’s a pretty thought, but the young racehorse already was the pick of the Juddmonte yearling litter deep into the fall of 2009 by the time Bobby died from the ravages of cancer on Nov. 16 of that year.

The colt did not have a name until, in the wake of Bobby’s death, he was christened Frankel by his owner and breeder, Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

“Bobby would be so proud, for the prince to do him the honor in the first place and for the colt to achieve at this level,” said Dottie Ingordo Shirreffs, Frankel’s friend and executor of his estate. “It’s just so meaningful to all of us.”

According to his trainer, Henry Cecil, Frankel will have one more race this year and then kick back, let the dust of hyperbole settle, and come back at age 4. We can only hope. In the meantime, the legacy of Bobby Frankel lives on through the his estate.

“He left a generous portion of his estate to charity,” Ingordo Shirreffs said. “We went in three directions. Because he loved all his dogs so much, we included the ASPCA. We’re working with Race for Education to have a continuing scholarship within the framework of the industry named for Bobby. And the third is Old Friends Equine, because Bobby never forgot how he started out with the old claiming horses who achieved so much.”

Among the residents of the Old Friends retirement facility in Lexington is Marquetry, who won the 1991 Hollywood Gold Cup as well as Del Mar’s 1992 Eddie Read for Frankel and Juddmonte Farm.

“Not only do they have Marquetry, they have Bobby’s trophies at Old Friends as well,” Ingordo Shirreffs added.

This would include his five Eclipse Awards as the nation’s champion trainer.

“Now when people visit Marquetry they can get their pictures taken with the Gold Cup trophy and see the rest of Bobby‘s trophies,” she added. “They have become part of the tour.”

There were as many personal bequeaths from Frankel as there were institutional. Ingordo Shirreffs recalled the moment, toward the end of his siege with cancer, when Frankel sat down to decide who among his diverse and extended racetrack family would get what after he was gone.

“I arranged the categories of his holdings in stacks on a big table,” she said. “He asked me, ‘How much time do you think I have to think about all this.’ I told him, according to the doctors, it was probably time now. One day I picked up the phone and it was him. ‘I’m ready,’ he said. ‘Send the lawyers over.’ ”

What Frankel’s attorneys found was a highly detailed arrangement of bequeaths naming a surprising number of individuals, each one designated with some kind of remembrance that spoke of extraordinary attention to the specifics of both the individual and the gift. According to Ingordo Shirreffs, even the seasoned estate attorneys were impressed.

“One of them told me, ‘Look at the fine thread that he wove through all of this,’ ” Ingordo Shirreffs said. “And you know, she was right.”