Brendan Duke: Who is flat racing’s GOAT – Frankel or Sea the Stars?

Monday marks eight years to the day since Frankel made his debut. Brendan Duke wonders whether he was the best-ever on the flat...


A slightly underwhelming weekend on the racing front. Advertise rewarded the bold campaigning of connections by winning the traditional Ballydoyle benefit that is the Phoenix Stakes. Unfortunately with Sergei Prokofiev pulling as if stung by a wasp the form probably doesn’t amount to a whole lot. We will know more after Advertise runs in the Dewhurst.

The Hungerford Stakes is the highlight this week. I can’t really get a handle on running plans at the moment so am loathe to suggest a bet. Two weeks of fence-sitting I know but it’s York next week so should have a few selections there.

The sporting weekend on the other hand was about as whelming as it gets. Specifically the golf. Four hours of slow burning tension as Tiger clawed his way up the leaderboard. It was just like the old days as he proved that fairways ain’t the only way. Unfortunately the man mountain that is Brooks Koepka proved too much for our hero. Great entertainment though.

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I awoke this morning with thoughts of Tiger in my head. He’s the golf GOAT in my opinion but of course these things are subjective. Indeed by Tiger’s own measure of majors won, Jack Nicklaus is the greatest. I would factor in win percentage and number of regular tour wins. Also his complete dominance of the game for a prolonged period. Game of opinions.

Scrolling through Twitter I saw that it was eight years to the day that Frankel made his debut. Any of you that backed Nathaniel that day have my sympathies. As bad-beat stories go that takes some topping. The symmetry of it all got me to thinking. Golf’s GOAT and racing’s GOAT back to back in my thoughts. I’ve a blog to write. This is something to write about.

These are essentially pub conversations. If three generations of one family got together and were asked to name the greatest ever in a chosen sport there is a good chance they would pick three different people. There is also a good chance that each member of that family would have been in their twenties when that sportsman was in his pomp.

We’re inclined to remember everything being better during our own salad days. It’s no coincidence that Mr Burns is less than impressed having watched a fight in Homer’s house. He had after all once spent a nickel to watch Gentleman Jim Corbett fight an Eskimo fellow bare knuckled for 113 rounds.

Whether Frankel is the greatest horse of all time I don’t know. Timeform have kept records for about 70 years and think he is the best they’ve seen. What I can say with certainty is that Frankel is the best horse I’ve seen.

Unbelievably I’ve quite a few acquaintances, most shrewder than I, who believe Sea The Stars was better. They all have the same reasoning. STS was idling and just doing enough they say. It’s time to put this madness to bed. STS was a champion, he had to be to win from there as Jim McGrath said during his Arc commentary.

Indeed, that was one of the most amazing runs I’ve ever seen. For a horse to win such a prestigious race while pulling the jockey’s arms out most of the way was unprecedented in my memory. Funnily enough Treve did something remarkably similar in the same race a couple of years later.

Here’s the thing though, he wasn’t just doing enough. Well-bred Sir Mark Prescott horses who’ve started handicap life off a mark in the fifties and win with their ears pricked are probably just doing enough. This is a dangerous game as you’re effectively giving a horse credit for something it hasn’t achieved.

However, factoring inexperience and potential it’s probably a sensible view for us to take. You can’t compare a horse running on the threshold of equine athletic performance to that horse though. They’re apples and oranges.

If we take the view that STS was doing a Road Runner impression and just letting his pursuers get close enough before going beep-beep then no horse in the past, present or future could ever have beaten John Oxx’s charge.

Running to the performance numbers that STS achieved is extremely rare and can only be done by a phenomenal athlete conditioned to run at the peak of his powers. There was no reserve tank. Every tank must be run dry to get to such stratospheric heights.

Frankel not only beat, but humbled, some top horses. Excelebration was a rare talent. St Nicholas Abbey, Farhh, Nathaniel and Cirrus Des Aigles all top notchers too. Frankel may not be the GOAT but he’s certainly the greatest of recent times. Happy Anniversary.

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What do you think?