By sunset on British Champions’ Day, the flag bearing Sir Henry Cecil’s family crest was already fluttering outside Warren Place.
Stable tradition dictates that the flag is flown for every Group 1 winner. There were times not so long ago when the flagpole stood unused but thanks to a raft of decent Juddmonte homebreds in recent years, such as Passage Of Time, Midday and Twice Over, plus of course the Niarchos family’s Oaks winner Light Shift, the flag has had plenty of airings.
Five times it has been hoisted aloft for the horse that is fast joining Red Rum as a household name: Frankel. Racing commentators have latched onto the alliteratively handy ‘freak’ tag for the unbeaten son of Galileo but he is simply the perfect racehorse, who becomes ever more professional with each visit to the racecourse. Those still nursing the hurt of having Sea The Stars taken away from us at the end of his impeccable three-year-old season, can rest easy in the knowledge that, barring catastrophe, we will have Frankel to look forward to in 2012.
But for now, he leaves us with the image of him streaking after his pacemaker brother in the blazing autumn sunshine, quickly engulfing him and leaving all those Group 1 winners – Excelebration, Immortal Verse, Poet’s Voice and Dick Turpin – a fast-disappearing chorus line trailing in his starry wake.
Frankel may rightly have had top billing for the inaugural QIPCO Champions’ Day but there were plenty of other performances to stir the soul. Deacon Blues’s coming of age in the British Champions’ Sprint Stakes (formerly the Diadem Stakes), taking his seasonal tally to five consecutive victories and confirming his place among the country’s best sprinters; Dancing Rain’s authoritative strike in the Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes dissolving and residual suspicion that her Oaks victory had been some sort of fluke, and the incredible resurgence of Ascot Gold Cup winner Fame And Glory after two lacklustre interim runs.
With the stage set for a thrilling climax in the Champion Stakes, run for the first time away from Newmarket, the ultra-tough Cirrus Des Aigles underlined the importance of never under-estimating Gallic raiders in this great race. His victory over the favourite So You Think and Snow Fairy was the third by a French-trained horse in the last six runnings.
The sour footnote to the race, however, was the subsequent five-day ban for Christophe Soumillon and his loss of more than £50,000 in his percentage of the prize-money from Britain’s richest race following a transgression of the new and highly controversial whip rules introduced by the BHA in the past week.
The financial penalty is likely to be of least concern to Soumillon, who is chasing the French jockeys’ title (the reward for which, ironically, is the Cravache d’Or or ‘Golden Whip’) and can ill afford five days on the sidelines this close to the end of the season.
His highly publicised angry outburst was an unfortunate ending to a superb day’s racing but he has many supporters in his outrage at his punishment and the tarnishing of the inaugural British Champions’ Day will surely add to the pressure felt by the BHA to act fast to address the fall-out from the whip rule amendments.