Unbeaten racehorse Frankel running final career race at Ascot
LONDON (AP) -- He's won all 13 of his races, is regarded as one of the world's greatest racehorses and has made Britain's most-acclaimed trainer feel young again during a battle with cancer.
In the space of two years, Frankel - the world's top-ranked thoroughbred - has left a huge imprint on racing. His dazzling career will come to an end this weekend in front of Queen Elizabeth II and 32,000 spectators at Ascot.
After Saturday's Champion Stakes, where he is seeking to increase his career earnings to nearly 3 million pounds ($4.85 million), Frankel will settle down to a life of luxury as a stallion for his Saudi owners.
"It's for others to sum him up but we'll remember him with fantastic fondness as really the ultimate equine athlete," Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to Frankel's owner Khalid Abdullah, said. "I'm biased, but I think he's the best there has ever been."
Frankel's breathtaking performances have touched the hearts of British racing fans since his first win, as a 2-year-old, in August 2010.
And they have brought his trainer, Henry Cecil, back into the public consciousness in a way he could never have imagined.
Cecil was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2006 and has looked frail in recent public appearances, his voice quiet and low and much of his hair gone.
Nurturing Frankel to the top has made him feel "20 years better."
"I am so lucky to have been allocated Frankel to train," Cecil said Thursday. "He has been an inspiration and challenge, which I really needed so badly. Through my illness, I feel that the help from my wife, Jane, and the determination to be there for Frankel has helped me so much to get through the season."
Cecil has been training horses for 43 years and regards Frankel not only as the best horse he has handled but the best he has ever seen.
"This horse came to him as a very raw, exuberant talent and he's been able to harness this exuberance, he's been able to control the powder keg and do himself justice," BBC commentator Jim McGrath, who will call Frankel's last race, said. "It's quite an art - a display of a great artist at work."
Frankel, named after American Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, has arguably his toughest assignment ahead of him Saturday as he aims for a 14th straight win.
Cirrus Des Aigles, the defending champion, and Nathaniel - two horses in the top five in the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities' world thoroughbred rankings - will be in the field of six gunning for the first prize of 737,230 pounds ($1.19 million).
And the going is forecast to be soft - the first time Frankel has run on such ground since his debut race, when he won by only half a length.
But bookmakers listed him as the 1-6 favorite Thursday, and even his rivals don't expect Frankel to slip up.
"Obviously we're all going out to beat him, but he's unbeatable," said jockey William Buick, who will ride Nathaniel. "I think on Saturday he'll go out and do what he always does.
"Deep down I hope he does, because if he goes out on a high it will be magnificent for racing. Obviously I'm there to try and beat him, but Frankie Dettori said to me last night, `Get real, it's not going to happen."'
Frankel set the bar high when he romped to his first English classic victory, in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in April 2011. At one stage, the colt was 15 lengths clear, sparking an outbreak of spontaneous applause from spectators, before crossing the line ahead by six lengths.
As a 4-year-old, he has been even more dominant, winning the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot by 11 lengths in June and the International Stakes at York by seven lengths in August. It was an unprecedented eighth straight European Group One win and lifted his rating with Timeform - a company that rates performances by horses - to 147, its highest ever mark.
Only Dancing Brave, winner of the 2,000 Guineas and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, has been rated higher by handicappers at the British Horseracing Authority.
"He would have to rank in the top three horses I have ever seen," said McGrath, a commentator for 40 years. "He's a phenomenon. Most champions are capable of producing a supreme effort once or twice, or maybe three times in their career. But this horse has consistently produced these earth-shattering performances."
Frankel will finish his career without ever having raced overseas, but McGrath doesn't believe that will tarnish his legacy.
"He's been expertly handled by Henry Cecil. He's been very, very astute in the way he has brought this horse along," McGrath said. "Very cautiously, he has allowed him to mature and he's taught him along the way to settle in these races and do himself justice."
After Saturday, Frankel will start siring potential champions of the future from the stud at Banstead Manor in Newmarket. Some experts have predicted he could earn owner Prince Khalid bin Abdullah more than 100 million pounds ($160 million).
"You can't put a price on him," Grimthorpe said.
Frankel will headline QIPCO British Champions Day, the richest day in the country's racing history with 3 million pounds ($4.85 million) in prize money.
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