Last year saw the first progeny of Frankel reach the racecourse, with 30 individual two-year-olds in Britain and Ireland, and never has there been so much preoccupation and pressure surrounding a first-season sire, all because Frankel was, well, Frankel. Prior to Royal Ascot in 2016, Chris Cook in The Guardian perfectly pinpointed the developing phenomenon of chapter two of the Frankel story:
‘To begin with we gawped at the royal fellowship of high-achieving mares who would be, in the parlance, covered by him, their owners having paid £125,000 each for the privilege. The summer after his retirement we were treated to the news of his 95% fertility rate. A year later we marvelled at the fact someone was prepared to pay £1.15m for a gangly-legged foal just because the father was Frankel.’
When Fair Eva won the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot in July, it took the strike-rate of Frankel’s progeny to a remarkable 53%, from seven individual two-year-olds at that point. But, ten months on, what is the assessment now of Frankel the sire – is he living up to expectations, is he disappointing given all the power and privileges he had, or is it somewhere in between? Let’s analyse it statistically, focusing on his first crop, but also their dams, by means of comparison with other leading stallions, including his own, Galileo.
When they came to the track, Frankel’s youngsters certainly hit the ground running. Cunco, his first ever representative, won on his debut, as did four of his next five. Frankel ended the season with a strike-rate of 40% for newcomers, which is much higher than any other sire in the last fifteen years, albeit from a small sample.
There could be a number of reasons for Frankel’s unusually high winners-to-runners percentage last year: the supposition that he's a very good sire, the suggestion that he sires precocious two-year-olds, the supposition that those two-year-olds were treated differently, or a combination of all those factors and more. Given the focus on all things Frankel, from the stud fee to the fertility rate and the price for a ‘gangly-legged foal’, there could well be weight behind the consideration that his juveniles were more primed and readied to win, for the pressures involved.
The ratings achieved by these debut winners of Frankel were similar to other, established sires. The visualisation below shows the top ten stallions according to the average performance rating of a first-time winner. The top two are Lope de Vega (90.8) and War Front (89.8), about 4.2 lbs better than the ‘normal’ Frankel debut winner.
It’s quality versus quantity. In terms of quantity of first-time-out winners from his first crop, Frankel is out on his own, but their quality was broadly similar to other notable sires, the exceptions being Fair Eva, who ran to 102 on her debut and tried and failed in a classic as a three-year-old, and Cracksman (100), who’s Derby bound, though further afield Soul Stirring has already broken classic ground for Frankel by winning the Japanese Oaks earlier this month.
A further four from Frankel’s first batch in Britain went on to rate higher than 100 in 2016, namely Queen Kindly,Seven Heavens, Frankuus and Cunco, all of whom have been seen out this year, but none raising their game greatly as yet.
Of the power and privileges for Frankel referred to earlier, the power was all his, but the privilege comes from the class of the mares he’s covered. According to Juddmonte's profile of Frankel, '21% of the mares covered in his first three seasons were Group 1 winners.’ The plot below shows a histogram of highest Timeform performance ratings achieved by the mares involved in Frankel’s first crop. Danedream, who produced as-yet-unraced Nothing But Dreams (Roger Varian) with Frankel, had the standout figure, as befits an Arc and King George winner, but there were also as many as five mares with ratings between 122.5 and 127.5.
Also shown on the plot are the highest ratings of mares covered by Galileo in the same year, at a time he'd been already been champion sire five times (out of six year). The median rating of mares covered by Frankel was 109.5, compared to 104.5 for those who went to Galileo. And for a more direct comparison, the median of the dams of Galileo's very first crop was a lowly 85. Those revealing figures show just how privileged Frankel has been.
The next question, therefore, is to what extent does a high-quality mare make for above-average offspring, specifically as a two-year-old. We looked at mares (in Britain and Ireland) with a Timeform rating in excess of 100 who’d had a two-year-old placed, since 2001, and matched the dam’s best racing rating with their offspring’s juvenile high, illustrated by the following visualization: each light blue dot represents an individual two-year-old, while the dark blue dot is the average juvenile rating achieved by all the foals out of any given dam on that ability axis. The red line is the relationship between the dam’s rating and the best of her two-year-olds.
Generally speaking, there is a simple, positive relationship: the better the dam, the better the juvenile. However, the spread of two-year-old performances either side of the line is fairly expansive, showing that given talent is by no means a given. There are obvious reasons why this shouldn’t surprise, primarily the natural development of the racehorse, most of whom race fewer than three times at two, meaning their first season is rarely if ever reflective.
The highest-rated two-year-old in the dataset isn't Frankel, but Dream Ahead, who weighed in with a hefty 129 when running riot in the Middle Park. He was by Diktat (126), out of Land Of Dreams (115), and tops the following list of highest-rated juveniles in the period under review, including their sire and dam (with their career-best figure).
Galileo appears four times in the list above, more of a source for exceptional juveniles than you might think. Minding and, of course, Frankel went on to far bigger and better things at three, Teofilo could have done but never got the chance due to injury, though has since become a very good sire himself, and Churchill is clearly well on his way to a ‘classic’ classic campaign.
Comparing Frankel against the Daddy, his Daddy, is probably not the fairest of fights, not at this stage, but using Galileo as a means of measurement highlights the mountain he has to climb to reach the top as a sire, the way he did as a racehorse, and the primary words of warning out of this analysis is that he won’t get any better mating material than he already has. That said, in stallion terms, Frankel is still a boy, and there’s plenty of time and opportunity yet for him to become a man, a stallion man, and a crack man like Cracksman may make a man of him sooner rather than later