The greatest racehorse ever? Frankel farewell sparks debate

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent
Tom Queally and Frankel
Photo: Getty images

The number-crunching boffins who sit down and assess every racehorse on the planet believe Frankel's record of 13 wins from 13 career starts makes him current world champion.

Prince Khalid Abdulla's colt, trained by Sir Henry Cecil, gets a rating - expressed in pounds - of 140, well clear of France's outstanding Cirrus Des Aigles, the 2011 Champion Stakes winner, on 130.

In other words, were the two - who are due to line up with the same weight in Saturday's running of the Ascot feature - in a handicap instead, it is believed Frankel is sufficiently superior to concede 10lb and win.

However, on modern-day ratings, Frankel, who reached these exalted heights with a breathtaking success at Royal Ascot in June, is not officially rated the best horse Flat racing has seen.

Dancing Brave, winner of eight of his 10 races in 1985-6 - a tally that included the 2000 Guineas, Eclipse, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, was rated 141.

Sometimes, however, statistics are simply not enough.

For racing in the 1980s, Dancing Brave, who also carried the Khalid Abdullah silks, was completely iconic just as Frankel prompts wide-eyed adoration from his ever-growing army of supporters today.

But so was Sea The Stars (2009), ditto Shergar, the 1981 Derby winner - commentator Peter Bromley said: "You need a telescope to see the rest" - and, during a golden era in the 1970s, Nijinsky, Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef.

Plenty of historians, and those with the longest of memories, will insist there has never been anything to touch the brilliance of, say, Sea-Bird or Ribot, Abernant, The Tetrarch, Pretty Polly or Sceptre.

The list of possibilities goes on and on, with so many lovers of racing holding a view of who is best overall.

And in a 5 Live Sport special on Thursday to mark what is expected to be Frankel's swansong in the centrepiece of British Champions Day at Ascot, we will try to work it all out.

Photo: Getty Images
Walter Swinburn and Shergar

Shergar's jockey Walter Swinburn will be casting aside bias towards his ultimately vanished Epsom hero to join our studio jury, along with one-time jockey turned journalist and writer Brough Scott, and myself.

Our top 10s include all of the above, but we want your assistance too, with suggestions, opinions and comment for the programme, which will run for two hours from 19:30 BST.

To be honest, I laughed when it was first mooted, having spent so much time asking trainers how horse 'A' that they train, rates against horse 'B' that they had back in the day.

Almost invariably they were infuriatingly coy, insisting we should enjoy not compare the generations, although last year Sir Henry Cecil famously described Frankel as "the best he'd seen" (let alone trained).

Having seen furlongs of big names, spread across centuries of racing, I am suddenly rather sympathetic.

What is certain is that in the 5 live Sport Stakes, the unbeaten Frankel will face the biggest ever challenge to his supremacy, although, like the other challenges, he may well take it all in his impressive stride.

BBC Radio 5 Live racing special, Thursday 18 October, 19:30-21:30 BST


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