A break from the normal political thinking to indulge one of my other interests - the world of horse racing. I've been a racing fan since my youngest times in the mid-1960s when my great-uncle took us all to Goodwood. I used to keep a racing scrapbook and I well remember cutting out stories of Foinavon's 1967 Grand National win.
Just one week ago, I was enjoying a glorious summer evening at Lingfield Park in Surrey and watching a little piece of history as a two-horse race ended in a dead-heat. That was history but the question in racing at the moment is whether FRANKEL, owned by Prine Khaild Abdulla and trained by Sir Henry Cecil at Newmarket, is the greatest racehorse ever or just one of the greats.
FRANKEL is unbeaten in thirteen runs and has won by an average of six lengths. He first came to prominence as an unbeaten juvenile but in May 2011 he took a huge step forward by a comprehensive demolition of his contemporaries in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. That was an eye-catching performance but this next run at Ascot raised some doubts. He scrambled home by three quarters of a length after what was recognised as a poor ride by Tom Queally.
Normal service was resumed in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood with a comprehensive thrashing of the previous season's top miler, CANFORD CLIFFS, but subsequently the latter was found to be injured so a few doubts remained. Finally, FRANKEL won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot by four lengths to round off a strong 3-y-o campaign.
This year, after an injury scare, he won the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury and then followed up by a brilliant eleven-length demolition of the field in the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot in June raising his rating still further to 138. Another triumphal romp in the Sussex Stakes saw his rating up to 140.
However, there were those who, while asserting FRANKEL's brilliance at a mile (the distance of all his races as a 3-y-o and 4-y-o to this point), claimed that in order to achieve further greatness, he would need to move up in trip and prove himself at a mile and a quarter. On Tuesday, at York, in the Juddmonte International Stakes, he did just that, beating the Godolphin horse FARHH as easily as he had in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood for which his rating was raised to an all-time high of 142.
The previous highest rating was given to DANCING BRAVE after his win in the 1986 Arc de Triomphe when he routed a star-studded international field of classic winners. I remember watching that race and being astounded by the pace DANCING BRAVE showed as he swept down the outside and cut down the French and English Derby winners as though they were carthorses.
Is FRANKEL as good now as DANCING BRAVE was then? One argument being put forward in the racing world is that if FRANKEL were to go to Paris and win the Arc de Triomphe and win it well, his position in racing immortality would be preserved. Older hands speak of the 1970 Derby and Leger winner NIJINSKY but he narrowly failed in the Arc, beaten by SASSAFRAS and of the 1965 Derby and Arc winner, SEA BIRD II, who was arguably the greatest race horse of modern times.
Yet connections have never been tempted by the Arc - perhaps they want the unbeaten record intact. The final race is supposedly the Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 20th which on all known form he will win. Yet many racing fans are of the view this would be an unsatisfactoiry conclusion.
Were he to go to Paris, he'd likely meet the Derby (and possibly Triple Crown) winner CAMELOT and the top older stayer NATHANIEL. Beating them would leave no doubt, no question as to FRANKEL's ststus in the pantheon. Even those in the southern hemisphere who espouse the achievements of BLACK CAVIAR would be compelled to recognise the achievements.
And yet connections seem reluctant.
There are times when the achievement of greatness requires risk. Going to Paris would be a gamble - he might be the best horse in the race and still not win - but the prize, in my view, justifies the risk.
Sir Henry Cecil won't read this but if he did I would simply say that FRANKEL will succeed where ARDROSS failed and earn a place in racing immortality.
Give it a chance, Sir Henry.
Fortune favours the bold...