After three seasons of racing at the highest level with nary a loss, Frankel was celebrated as one of the greatest racehorses by the end of his career, and many noteworthy judges of form and class rated him the best racehorse ever.
As a result of Frankel’s exceptional ability and heralded athleticism, there has not been a comparable level of anticipation about a young sire’s produce since the first foals and yearlings by Secretariat came to the sales in 1975 and ’76.
So, since Frankel’s retirement to stud and first covering season in 2013, one of the great sources of comment and interest in the world of breeding has been what the Frankel foals look like and what those looks might foretell about the prospects of the great racehorse as a sire.
Frankel’s acclaim was so broad that the general press, in addition to the sporting publications, devoted space to coverage of the famous horse’s first foals and also to the first of his offspring to go to the sales.
From seven through the ring at Goffs and Tattersalls, only three changed hands. One of those was a very impressive filly out of the top racer Finsceal Beo (by Mr. Greeley), and she brought a top-foal price of 1.8 million euros at Goffs.
In addition, another filly at Goffs brought 480,000 euros, and one at Tattersalls was sold for 150,000 guineas.
Those were not the results breeders and vendors were hoping for, and by anyone’s estimation, the expectations for the first foals by Frankel were sky high.
That is probably the issue with those youngsters who were bought back at Tattersalls on Friday, which the sales company had promoted as “Frankel Friday.” That promotional campaign blew up in confetti after one colt was scratched for a “minor knock” and two others were bought back for 350,000 and 200,000 guineas.
Those were good prices, but they weren’t good enough to buy a Frankel.
Even allowing that a further Frankel foal sold in Japan back in July for about $950,000, the market is sending mixed signals about the first foals by the great racehorse. Some are clearly worth nearly any price, but others seem to be “just a horse,” in the estimation of buyers presently.
In sum, I suspect that the statistics and sales results mean a whole lot less than they appear to.
The expectations for Frankel, just like those for Secretariat, are so high that the horse’s accomplishments as a stallion nearly have to fall below them. As the best horse in Europe since at least Sea-Bird or Ribot, Frankel has virtually no chance to sire a racer of his own extraordinary ability. The odds of doing that are only the slimmest. What chance is there then that he could sire horses better than himself?
Do not take this as an episode of Frankel-bashing. It is nothing of the kind. Instead, it is a whiff of sincere practicality.
If Frankel is a great stallion, he might sire 20 percent stakes winners, and that would make him a very great stallion, indeed. So from 125 foals, he would have 25 stakes winners. That would leave 100 non-stakes winners. If we were to be very liberal, maybe 40 or so of those would be pretty good sorts, able to win a race or three, show flashes of good form, maybe place in a stakes or something.
And that would leave another 50 or so who would be, in frank language, “duds.”
That’s the arbitrary and unsentimental nature of genetics. The primary law of genetic transmission is regression to the mean, and that applies to all horses, even the best of the best.
Such is the reason that truly outstanding sires like Northern Dancer, Bold Ruler, Sadler’s Wells, Mr. Prospector, and Galileo are so exceptional. They defy the probabilities by getting a higher proportion of high-class stock, not by siring only high-class stock.
And where did every one of those sires prove his merit? Not in the sales ring, at least not initially, but on the racetrack. That is where the undefined possibilities of genetic transmission meet the unbending assessments of athletic competition.
In a couple more years, we will begin to have some ideas about what Frankel’s stock can do when they pop out of the gate, and the racecourses of the world spread out in front of them.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank’s lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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