IIt always had to happen one day, and on Saturday afternoon, the moment finally arrived. Just under 10 years after Frankel ended an unbeaten 14-race career in October 2012, Baaeed’s name has been thrown into the same sentence as Sir Henry Cecil’s great champion, following his stunning success in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.
It went little further than a general acknowledgment that Baaeed was perhaps the “best since” Frankel, on a UK racecourse at least, while Angus Gold, race manager for the Shadwell operation who owns the four years, cautiously suggested to the Racing Post that he was “not going to say he’s in this class yet because Frankel is the best I’ve ever seen, although he’s headed in that direction.”
But as long as Baaeed continues to win – and based on Saturday’s evidence, there’s nothing among the older horses at least that can give him a serious run – the comparisons will continue, not least because his run throughout season long may well be near. -facsimile of Frankel’s four-year campaign.
Next up for the seven-race unbeaten winner is the Queen Anne Stakes, the first race at the royal meeting next month, in which Frankel put in the biggest performance of his career ten years ago. William Haggas will also be looking to move him up to a mile and a quarter later in the season, likely in the International Stakes at York in August, in which, as the coach pointed out on Saturday, Frankel was “arguably… at his more compelling” in 2012.
If Baaeed’s winning streak remains intact, then the Champion Stakes at Ascot would be the obvious place to conclude his career, just 16 months after his start at Leicester in June 2021. The dream that one day they could breed the horse perfect and unbeatable racing game has kept owners and breeders of the flat racing game for centuries, and for far longer than there have been geneticists, to explain why their quest is almost certain to end in disappointment .
Most of the truly great horses of recent decades have suffered at least one defeat. Timeform has rated 140 or more on 13 horses since 1948, and only two – Frankel and Ribot – have gone through their entire careers unbeaten. Sea-Bird II, Brigadier Gerard, Mill Reef, Dancing Brave, Sea The Stars (Baeed’s father), Shergar and Dubai Millennium are among the 11 who didn’t. None of these great horses were diminished by defeat.
Brigadier Gerard was undefeated in 15 starts when Roberto beat him at York in 1972, while Sea The Stars’ only setback came on his debut as a two-year-old. But at the same time, the fact that Baaeed is still undefeated after seven trips to the track can only add to the buzz and anticipation as his four-year season unfolds. For now, he can only be one of the best of years, not decades, and his revised Timeform mark of 134 is almost a stone’s throw from Frankel (147).
The best flat horse in living memory was also notable for his extraordinary ability to produce over 140 performances time and time again, which Baaeed will surely find impossible to match in the limited time available.
A relatively late start to his racing career also meant the Haggas colt never had a chance to get a classic or juvenile group win on his resume. These are just a few of the reasons why any mention of Frankel sets the bar high beyond Baaeed. None of us, after all, can reasonably expect to see two horses of Frankel’s quality in a single lifetime.
But you can always hope, as generations of owners, breeders and fanciers have done for centuries. As long as Baaeed has that air of “invincibility,” the comparisons will keep coming.