Frankel: Champion of all-time* (*since 1977)

  • By: Will Hayler
  • Last Updated: January 16 2013, 17:39 GMT

Ceilings, benchmarks, grasped nettles and recalibrations. Just in case there was any danger that the everyday sports fan might, for just one minute, be able to understand the simple premise that Frankel may well have been the greatest horse in history, the decision to posthumously downgrade some of racing's biggest names from the past muddies the picture nicely.

Frankel: A game of numbers

Not that the World Thoroughbred Rankings (formerly known as the International Classifications) are some sort of timeless historical database for racing fans in any case. Not only did they only start in 1977, the Americans weren't even included until 1995 and South American horses have only just been added for the first time.

No wonder, therefore, that the British Horseracing Authority head of handicapping Phil Smith was forced to admit to the media that he felt "cautious" about describing Frankel as the world's best-ever racehorse.

Of course, it shouldn't be the biggest surprise that when assessing the merits of an animal bred specifically and selectively to achieve ever-greater levels of athletic performance, the numbers should show a gradual incline over time.

Nor were Smith and his colleagues the only ones starting to feel slightly uncomfortable about some of the ratings handed out to champions in the 1980s and 1990s, where the calculations seemed to allow more leeway for gut instinct than is supposed to be the case now.

It's not quite fair to describe it as a fudge. The issues of slippage and of changing methods of handicapping is covered in a comprehensive 26-page document published today in conjunction with the rankings by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. I started reading it, then got bored, but you're welcome to have a look yourself.

A more legitimate question to ask seems to be 'Why now?' as opposed to 'Why?'. Smith said that the "recalibration process" had been underway for three or four years, but it can't be just me wondering if the completion of this process might have been expedited simply so that Frankel could be crowned as the all-time (had time begun in 1977) champion.

Does it matter? Well, probably not. If you, like me, were lucky enough to watch Frankel in action on a racecourse over the last three years then a three-digit number starting with a one means very little compared to the goosepimples he gave at York when stepped up in trip, or the sheer exhilaration of watching him tear down the track at Newmarket or Ascot, leaving other good horses trailing in his wake.

But history shouldn't be rewritten lightly and the decision to reassess past greats doesn't sit easily with aficionados who remember the likes of Dancing Brave et al with great affection.

Poor old Dancing Brave. Who will fight his corner now? He beat Sharahstani, Shardari, Bering, Acatenango, Darara, Triptych and others in the 1986 Arc de Triomphe. Only time will tell whether the horses Frankel thrashed will trip as easily off the tongue 20 years from now.

I remember attending one press conference for the unveiling of the annual ratings when there were more handicappers than members of the media a few years ago. Ever since, the BHA have been trying for years to make the annual unveiling of the ratings a more media-friendly affair that generates a greater number of column inches. And now they've done it. Good old Frankel.

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