I don’t remember much before. Vaguely, a tough gritty horse called Master Willie winning a race of some merit the previous Autumn. But I do remember the 1981 Epsom Derby and I do remember Shergar. Five years old I was, and while other kids were probably pestering their mums for a ten penny mix-up, I ran home from primary school in Wythenshawe to join my dad who was enjoying his usual Wednesday afternoon off work on the sofa. Just in time, I was about to witness the most remarkable Derby victory of a generation.
Shergar was simply magnificent. Eased down by a young Walter Swinburn, he romped to a ten length win that left a huge impression on me. Shergar’s action was so effortless it would be another couple of years before the red of Manchester United would usurp the green of HRH Aga Khan as my favourite colour.
I was of course devastated when Shergar flopped in the St Leger over the longer distance and even more so when he was cruelly taken from us by the IRA, but the superstar colt had hooked me on the sport. And that’s all it was at that age. I don’t think I’d had a bet at least, though it wouldn’t be too many more years before 5p Round Robins were being placed at the old Seymour & Story in Civic Centre…55p plus the old tax.
In the early to mid eighties there were plenty more horses who captured my imagination, the wonderful triple crown winning filly Oh So Sharp and the unlucky El Gran Senor but probably due to the ownership connection, a less remembered horse called Kalaglow stood out for me in that era. But none of them measured upto Shergar in my affections.
However in 1986 a horse arrived on the flat scene that was equally special. If Shergar had been on a perch, then he was about to be joined by Dancing Brave. There is something remarkably attractive about the unlucky loser in sport and when the Brave failed to peg back Shahrastani at Epsom, he won the hearts of many punters who largely blamed the inept ride given by Greville Starkey. Though his stamina had been questioned, Dancing Brave was flying at the finish, literally eating up the ground but Starkey would have given a fighter jet too much to do sweeping round Tattenham Corner.
However, after wins in the Eclipse & King George, it was the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that was to provide Dancing Brave with his defining moment. As at Epsom, he was left plenty to do against the cream of European middle distance horses but how he responded was out of this world. They were simply swept aside by a devastating late surge that stunned onlookers. Has a horse ever, visibly, moved quicker? Probably not.
It would be unfair to completely ignore the incredible versatility of Sea The Stars and the ability to overcome adversity as he did in the Arc but it would be a full quarter of a century later before flat racing provided something special in the Shergar and Dancing Brave mould.
Enter Frankel. Frankel the Great.
I could wax lyrical about ‘that moment’ in the 2000 Guineas when Frankel appeared to be running in a different race to the opposition, fifteen lengths ahead at halfway. I could focus on the split second in the Sussex Stakes when Frankel took one look at a superb miler like Canford Cliffs and dismissed him with nonchalant ease. Or I could talk about his racing style which punters love to bits. Honest, direct, here I am…if you want to beat me, simple, just go faster. If you dare (they don’t).
But what this horse has done most of all for me this season is to reconnect a 35 year old with the 5 year old that fell in love with the sport all those years ago. He quite literally makes me want to run home from school again.
That, in a nutshell, is why I love Frankel.