Frankel was great but Secretariat was the greatest

Time brings perspective. Throughout 2012 we had to listen to a racing press repeating the mantra that Frankel was the greatest horse ever.  The poignancy of this great horse arriving as Henry Cecil entered the final stages of his storied life transferred the story from the racing pages to the front pages.  As an unbeaten winner of 14 races, encompassing 10 group 1’s and 9 consecutive group 1’s there is no doubt about his greatness but I would be very slow to accord him the accolade of ‘the greatest’.  Now with the passing of time and the reduction in hype it’s easier to properly consider his place in the pantheon of the greats.

Firstly what constitutes greatness? For me it its firstly a matter of brilliance backed up by consistency, durability and versatility. To be the greatest ever you must demonstrate more of these qualities than any other racehorse in history. For me Frankel scores exceptionally well in terms of brilliance and consistency, he scores reasonably in terms of durability but he scores lowly in terms of versatility.  Is there a horse who can outscore him using these 4 criteria? I believe there is – and his name is Secretariat.

Frankel vs Secretariat for brilliance: Verdict = draw

Frankel had brilliance. His Guineas performance looked the most impressive since Tudor Minstrel although we subsequently learned that the form was moderate for a classic with only Roderic O’ Connor ever subsequently winning a Group 1.  As a three year old his Sussex win over Canford Cliffs was impressive (although Canford was injured) and as a four year old his performance in the Queen Anne was astonishing and his Lockinge and Juddmonte performances hard to fault. Frankel showed brilliance in abundance. However so did Secretariat. His two year old performances (eg his 8 length victory in the Laurel Futurity)made him not just champion two year old but horse of the year.  He was a better two year old than Frankel who was unimpressive in winning the Dewhurst.  At three his achievement in setting track records in the triple crown races and three other track records (one tied) is remarkable. And then there is his Belmont performance- it really is an extreme in terms of performance. Watch again to remind yourself of the horse who ‘ran a hole in the wind’ in  a time of 2:24 to win a classic by 31 lengths.  Frankel had time to mature to reach his peak at four, Secretariat wasn’t given that opportunity but he didn’t need to further prove his greatness.  I have attached videos of Frankel’s Queen Anne and Secretariat’s Belmont to remind readers of how great they were in their prime.

Frankel vs Secretariat for consistency: Verdict = Frankel

Frankel was unbeaten in 14 races, ten of them Group 1’s. His only slightly disappointing run was the 2011 St James Palace Stakes where he was all out to hold off Zoffany by three quarter’s of a length.  However that is only nit-picking in a perfect record.  Secretariat by contrast lost his unbeaten record on his first start. A disqualification in the Champagne Stakes meant his two year old record finished as 7 out of 9 wins.  His three year old career started with two victories before a defeat in the Wood Memorial (he was suffering from an abcess). After his triple crown he mixed the good with the bad and suffered surprise defeats in the Whitney Stakes and the Woodward Stakes.  His busy three year old season eventually finished with a record of 9 wins from 12 starts to give an overall career record of 16 wins and 5 defeats.

Frankel vs Secretariat for durability: Verdict = Secretariat

Frankel raced 14 times over three seasons.  Secretariat raced 21 times in two seasons and retired sound despite having 19 of his races on the less forgiving dirt tracks. Big Red had plenty toughness to go with his talent whereas Frankel was wrapped in cotton wool by comparison.

Frankel vs Secretariat for versatility: Verdict = Secretariat

In his first two seasons Frankel raced in distances that ranged all the way from 7 furlongs to…..8 furlongs. He waited until he was a mature four year old before finally stepping up to 10 furlongs.  He never left England and never had to cope with the demands placed on a horse by long distance travel. He was also unimpressive on his final run when tackling officially soft ground for the only time since his debut.

Secretariat won from 6 furlongs to 13 furlongs in the Canadian International. His final two races (the Man o’ War and the Canadian International ) were on turf. On dirt he ran on fast and he ran on sloppy tracks and he coped with all of these diverse conditions.

Conclusion-   Some horses like Hawk Wing in the Lockinge Stakes are capable of one extraordinary performance but incapable of reproducing it.  In contrast his stable mate and contemporary Rock of Gibraltar produced high class performances with great consistency but nothing extraordinary.  Sea the Stars produced very very high class performances with great consistency over a variety of distances but for me he never produced a breathtaking performance. Frankel and Secretariat both were capable of extraordinary performances and both did so with regularity. I scored the decision marginally in favour of Secretariat but would respect the views of any Frankel fans who think otherwise. Moving on to the next question- will Frankel prove to be a better sire than Secretariat? I would be certain he won’t be a better broodmare sire and I’ve a hunch that like Secretariat he might prove slightly disappointing considering the level of expectation that exists.

Enjoy Frankel in the 2012 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot

Watch Secretariat’s amazing win in the 1973 Belmont Stakes

How to choose the right stallion-10 tips

montjeu topten list

It’s the most important decision of the year- which stallion to choose? Below are my ten top tips to help make the right decision for your mare.

1. Set an appropriate budget. This is easier said than done as opinions will differ widely as to what is ‘appropriate’. I would suggest asking yourself two simple questions:
a) is my mare worth at least 4 times the stud fee of the stallion?
b)Will my mare be in the top third of the book of mares visiting that stallion?
The hardest temptation to resist is the temptation to over-breed your mare in the hope of quickly upgrading the family. Resist this temptation or your will lose money. The old maxim of ‘breed the best to the best and hope for the best’ remains true, but don’t extend it to include ‘breed the moderate and worst to the best’.

2. Know the conformation of the stallion you are using. Do your research, have a good look at photos, videos and in the flesh. Look at his offspring. It’s critical that you look to balance out any weaknesses in your mares conformation by choosing a stallion who will offset, not reinforce these defects.

3. Know the fertility statistics of the stallion. Although modern management and scanning techniques have greatly improved the situation, having a barren year is an expensive lesson.

4. Look at the other costs. It’s not just the stud fee but the ancillary costs, such as transport, mare boarding fees, veterinary fees etc. What are the payment terms?

5. Does the stud have a reputation for fairness? If the foal dies shortly after birth will they strictly adhere to the contract? Will they facilitate you in future years?

6. What is the stallions book size? This is a critical factor as it can impact on

a) the stallion’s fertility
b)the level of competition you will face in the sales ring you tend to be benchmarked against the other offspring of that stallion rather than unrelated foals)
c) the likelihood that you can get more favourable terms on the stud fee.

7. Know your purpose. Are you breeding to race or to sell? If breeding to sell you are a slave to market fashions and will have to exclude many perfectly sound stallions who are out of fashion. There is no point being right about an underrated stallion but losing money when it comes to sell.

8. Remember you might have a filly! This might sound obvious but if the offspring is a filly consider how easy or difficult it would be to subsequently breed her. This is particularly the case in Europe where there are a lack of alternatives to the Sadler’s Wells and Danehill lines and we are seeing increasing inbreeding to these influences.

9. Proven vs Unproven. If you are dealing with a young mare remember that you should have a long term plan for the management of her career. It is critical to try and achieve early success with her offspring as this will obviously make later foals easier to sell. For that reason don’t use unproven stallions with an unproven mare. Later in her career you can use first or second stallions once she has established her record.

10.Get impartial advice. Breeding horses is not cheap and it makes sense to get expert advice. You wouldn’t buy a car or a house without getting a mechanic or engineers report yet people seem loathe to pay for another opinion on their mating plans. Look at sites such as for a list of available experts or contact this author directly at to get a fresh perspective on your options.