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The Great Debate - Black Caviar or Frankel

An interesting look at the careers of two of the greatest horses of the last twenty years in an attempt to answer the question – which one deserves the title of “the greatest”? Black Caviar or Frankel?

Frankel racing in the UK

At a recent meeting at Flemington, the following exchange was overheard, no doubt fueled by a liberal consumption of a few schooies, in one of the many bars which grace the course.

“No mate, I’m telling you, Frankel was the greatest horse to grace the track in this century!”

“You can’t really be serious! Compared to Black Caviar, Frankel was just a donkey with a posh saddle!”

“Noooo! Black Caviar was just a nag which could run faster than the others”

Since we thought that this last statement epitomised, if totally unintentionally, the very spirit of thoroughbred racing, we wondered if it might be a worthwhile exercise to compare these two modern giants of the track in an attempt to resolve the dispute between these two, and no doubt many more, race lovers.

Black Caviar and Frankel - Where it all began

Frankel, as many will know, was a dark bay British thoroughbred stallion. He was born in 2008 at the Juddmonte stud,and owned by Prince Khaled Abdullah of the Saudi Arabian Royal family. His trainer was the renowned knight of the realm, and of the track, Sir Henry Cecil. Although both his parents were of Irish origin, Frankel was given his somewhat unusual name in honour of the famous American racehorse trainer, Bobby Frankel, who through the seventies and eighties had built a reputation as a trainer capable of taking an ordinary galloper and turning it into a champion. However such magic was not needed for this horse, since his lineage included countless group 1 winners and with a trainer such as Cecil figuratively holding the reins, even the “donkey with a fancy saddle” would have been a winner.

Similar to Frankel, Black Caviar was a dark bay filly, with good lineage, bred in Australia of Australian parents with American and British grandparents. Unlike Frankel she was not owned by one individual but by a group including G.J. and K.J. Wilkie, and the Werret Bloodstock Pty. Her trainer was the redoubtable Peter Moody. Black Caviar, as with Frankel, was blessed with a lineage of winners, from her sire, the great Bel Esprit which had won the Doomben 10,000 in 2003, going back as far as the immortal Nijinsky, which had proved unbeatable as he strolled with consummate grace to five consecutive wins as a two year old and then in his third year to win the triple crown of English racing (the 2000 guineas, the Epsom Derby and the St Leger), a feat which as yet remains unrepeated.

Early Horse Racing Careers

Although not yet christened “the wonder from down under”, it soon became obvious that Black Caviar was going to become something special when she began her career on the track. As a two year old Black Caviar only raced twice – and won both times; first time winning by five lengths and second time by six lengths. Her three year old season, which also saw her go unbeaten, was not the unqualified success which had been expected. Winning her first race easily by four lengths, she then progressed to the Group 2 Danehill stakes at Flemington, where a stumble at the starting gate saw hearts everywhere miss a beat, before she came good to win by ¾ length. A chest muscle injury, which had caused the stumble at the start of the race, prevented her racing for several weeks. Nevertheless, on her return in January 2010, taking on older and wiser horses than she, in the Group 2 Australia stakes at Moonee Valley, she quickly returned to return to winning ways. Unfortunately an injury to her right foreleg shortly after this triumph brought her three year old season to a premature close.

In a similar vein to Black Caviar, the early career on the track for Frankel was also one of unbridled success. In his starts as a two year old, in the 2010 season, he raced unbeaten, winning the Group 1 Royal Lodge stakes by ten lengths and the Dewhurst Stakes comfortably by 21/2 lengths. 

His debut race, however, had turned out to be what for Frankel might be considered a close shave. Running against two already proven Group 1 winners, Colour Vision and Nathaniel, this latter steed finished only half a length behind him, which proved to be the closest any other competing horse managed to achieve during his time on the track.

His career as a three year old proved similarly successful, with victories in every race he competed in. Beginning with the Greenham Stakes, seen by many as a warm up race for the 2000 Guineas, Frankel won easily by four lengths. In the Guineas itself, he went one better and increased his winning margin to six lengths. His performance in this race, where he lead from start to finish along the entire mile long course, was described by his jockey as “barely believable” and by his trainer as “superstar class”.  Further victories in the St. James Palace Stakes, the Sussex Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth stakes saw him see out the season unbeaten. More importantly, after his victory in the Sussex, the British Racing Authority raised his Timeform ranking – a list ranking horses from best to worst – from 130, where he had stood as equal best in the world with a certain Black Caviar, to 135, thus declaring his to be the best thoroughbred in the world.

Frankel - Building a legacy

Although Frankel had yet to yield first place to any other horse, his record was somewhat dimmed by the fact that he had never raced over more than a mile, and as his four year old season began, trainer Cecil began to suggest that his pride and joy might step up and compete in races of a mile and a quarter and more. The stable planning was that Frankel should begin his career over longer distances with a start in the Eclipse stakes and then follow up with a start in the Juddmonte as preparation for a final career start in the Classic stakes at Santa Anita in the USA. A fitting conclusion, one might say for a horse of Frankel’s class and status, but as is well known – the best laid plans………….

Frankel threw the plan into disarray by appearing to injure himself in training and as a consequence his first appearance of the season did not come until mid-May in the Lockinge Stakes, which of course, provided the customary victory. This was followed up by further victories in the Queen Anne Stakes and, once again, in the Sussex Stakes, making him the only horse ever to win the Sussex twice. Sadly, detractors were beginning to carp that despite all the promises and suggestions these races were still no more than a mile in length.

As a result starting at odds of 1/10, Frankel was entered in the Juddmonte International stakes in August – a race of ten furlongs – and produced a superb win. From here he moved to the Champion stakes, also over ten furlongs and repeated the performance.

After this race, his owner, Prince Khaled Abdullah, announced that Frankel would be retired and would no longer race on the track. Thus after a period of only three short seasons of grace on the track, this equine superstar “hung up his saddle” with a record of fourteen starts, fourteen wins, no defeats, and prize money earned approaching £3million. On his retirement, his Timeform rating had risen to 149, the highest ever awarded in the history of the sport. A new life now awaited him at stud.  

Black Caviar - Competing For Greatness

Black Caviar winning her last TJ Smith Stakes

Compared to the career of Frankel, the four year old program faced by Black Caviar might be seen as considerably more demanding, with eight races in the season – all won- over distances up to 1200metres. One of her more spectacular performances came in November in the Group 1 Patinack Farm Classic at Flemington. Here she took on and beat a field of genuine quality and resoundingly beat them all. Veteran trainer Lee Freedman described her performance as “the best I have ever seen”. Appearing next on the track in the Lightening Stakes she chalked up another victory, and then, following this, in a race which some have described as her finest on the track, she romped home by three and a half lengths in the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington, carrying top weight, and setting a race record in the process. For these achievements the Timeform ratings for Black Caviar were improved to 130 – the highest at that time. Further victories followed before season's end, leaving her with a record of raced eight, won eight, leaving her with a winning streak of thirteen straight wins over three seasons of racing. Comparing this to Frankel’s record, we have 13 wins for Black Caviar and 14 for Frankel at the end of three season. 

Taking Different Paths

However, we now begin to see a difference in the careers of the two horses. Withdrawn from competitive racing by his owner Sheik Khaled Abdullah Frankel was able to enjoy a life of leisure and pleasure at stud. 

Black Caviar continued to race for two more seasons. After already winning in her eight starts during the Australian season, Black Caviar went on perhaps her most significant journey – overseas, to compete at Royal Ascot in the UK. To make the 11000 mile journey, she was fitted with a specially designed and tailored compression suit to minimise the changes in pressure during the flight and appeared to arrive without any noticeable side effects. 

The race itself, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, run over six furlongs, produced the expected result with Black Caviar crossing the line first. However, after-race discussions revealed that all had not gone to plan.

Criticism was levelled at jockey, Nolen, who having secured the lead some two furlongs out, appeared to ease up and was almost caught on the line by French trained Moonlight Cloud. However, post race x-rays showed that Black Caviar had in fact, somewhere during the race, had suffered an 8cm muscle tear, and it was this that Nolan had felt, before easing the horse up over the final stretch. Close examination by a vet and an equine chiropractor revealed that Black Caviar had a grade four tear of her quadriceps and a grade two tear to her sacroiliac. Serious injuries, indeed, but not serious enough to deter a horse of her calibre, and as a result, she was named European Sprinter of the Year for 2012, a supreme honour for a horse not bred in Europe.

Because of her injuries, Black Caviar returned home and did not compete in further races in the UK had been originally planned. Furthermore, the injuries proved to be so serious tha she did not return to the track until February 2013, to race as a six year old. 

Her first outing in the Lightening stakes produced the customary victory and as if to mark the occasion, she was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Victories continued to be chalked up and by the end of the season, her record read three starts, three wins, with an overall record of twenty five straight wins from twenty five races. Her final race, in April 2013, which she won with her usual aplomb, set a new record for the number of Group 1 race wins, 15, beating the existing record which had stood since 1980. It also saw her rise to the top of the world rankings with a Timeform score of 136. On this high note it was decided that Black Caviar would no longer grace the tracks, but would be put to the task of breeding champions.

In Conclusion, Who was the greatest racehorse?

So there you have it- the histories of two of the track greats. One a stallion racked up fourteen wins over three seasons, one a filly with 25 wins over six. One of them raced only on his home turf, one of them travelled half the world and could still turn in a winning performance. One of them raced well into equine middle age, one retired to a life of leisure while still a young stallion.  So which horse was the better of the two? The debate, we can be sure will still rage on and each will have is own viewpoint but for us there is only one “winner” - the Wonder from Down Under!

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