The victory by 4-year-old thoroughbred Frankel in last Saturday's Champion Stakes at Ascot Racecourse, 32 miles west of London, closed one of the finest careers in racing history but also enlivened an irresolvable debate over the colt's place among the sport's champions. Frankel, named for American trainer Bobby Frankel (who died of cancer at age 68 in November 2009) by the Saudi owners who had employed him in the U.S., finished with a perfect record in 14 races over three years and was an odds-on favorite in every race but his first. Only four times did he win by less than four lengths, a dominant record. Valued at $160 million, he will now stand at stud at Barnstead Manor, just outside of Newmarket, England.
Frankel has been widely anointed by European racing experts as history's greatest racehorse. In truth it's nearly impossible to compare him with the best in American racing. Frankel ran exclusively on grass, the preferred surface in Europe. (His last race was a stellar effort on a soft course that didn't suit his action). U.S. greats such as Secretariat and Citation ran almost exclusively on dirt. Frankel ran just twice at longer than a mile and never longer than 1 5/16 miles, while many U.S. champions have excelled at longer distances.
The answer is: Frankel is among the greats; even in a list-obsessed age, that will have to do.
ALAN CROWHURST/GETTY IMAGES (FRANKEL)