Saturday, June 16, 2012

Guest Post: Why Frankel and Black Caviar Shouldn't Meet

By Kelsey Riley

Next week will mark the 301st renewal of Britain’s historic Royal Ascot meeting. The flagship races of the five day meeting will be Tuesday’s Queen Anne Stakes and Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes, where Frankel and Black Caviar, the world’s two highest-rated horses, have their respective engagements. Frankel will attempt to take his record to 11 unbeaten in the one mile Queen Anne, while Australia’s Black Caviar goes for a perfect 22 in the newly named six furlong Diamond Jubilee. Frankel is currently the world’s highest rated horse based on the World Thoroughbred Rankings at 138, and Black Caviar sits below him at 130, and she is the world’s highest rated sprinter.

The European press is abuzz this week with speculation and debate over who is better. Because the two are unlikely ever to meet on the racetrack – Black Caviar may contest Newmarket’s July Cup before returning to Australia, and Frankel will remain on his home turf – the great debate will most certainly always be just speculation. The respective connections of Frankel and Black Caviar have been widely criticized for not arranging a meeting for their charges; However, I am relieved that the two are unlikely to meet.

For the simplest of reasons, Frankel and Black Caviar are just too different to allow a fair contest to be conjured. Frankel is a specialist miler with the potential to stretch out to nine or ten furlongs, and he trains over the softer surfaces and undulating gallops of rural Britain. Black Caviar is a sprint specialist trained over the faster and flatter surfaces of Metropolitan Melbourne. Although trainer Peter Moody has repeatedly stated that he believes his great mare could excel over longer distances (a mile or more), Black Caviar has carved a niche in sprints. If she were to compromise and meet Frankel over a greater distance and be beaten, there would always be a fair excuse. The same goes the other way around: surely it wouldn’t be a great stretch of the imagination to drop Frankel back a furlong to meet Black Caviar at seven, but it would be taking him out of his element. In addition, master trainer Sir Henry Cecil has put loads of work into teaching Frankel to relax and rate, and he seems to have finally gotten into the big horse’s head. A rubber match with the best sprinter in the world would surely undo all the work that Cecil has put into preparing Frankel to step up to 10 furlongs for the Juddmonte International this summer.

Black Caviar warms up for last November's Patinack Classic
at Flemington in front of her adoring Aussie fans
Being from opposite points of the world, one horse would have to travel a substantial distance to meet the other. As we have seen in America over the past few years, it is difficult to get two greats to meet even when they’re from the same country and excel over similar distances (Zenyatta vs. Rachel Alexandra, Curlin vs. Big Brown). There is always the excuse of the taxing flight and the adjustment to a new environment. Earlier this year, Qipco, which sponsors the British Champions Series, offered a £1 million bonus for Frankel and Black Caviar to both line up for the August 1 Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood over a mile (a race Frankel won last year). While it can be reasonably argued that Black Caviar could have stayed in England and had sufficient time to adjust for the Sussex, why should she have to be the one to travel and forego much richer purses in Australia? There has yet to be any significant pressure for Frankel to travel to Australia. The other side would argue that the great mare should be the one to travel because British racing has been historically perceived as the best in the world. But with rapid changes in racing internationally in recent years, especially in Australia, I don’t think that’s a fair perception, especially for a sprinter.

If the two did meet, I feel it would be difficult to not be disappointed after the race, because one of them would have to lose. I have gotten so much enjoyment out of watching these two brilliant, beautiful horses over the last two years and, after next Tuesday, I will have seen both of them race in person. The fact is they are incomparable, so why compare? Why can’t we have two of the best in the world?

-- Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start programme. She will join the TDN staff in July.

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