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Champion Stakes preview

The swansong of a champion like Frankel deserves more than a stock-standard preview; it's not just a race, it's witnessing a door close on history. Who better to add colour and life to the story than David Plane, @planey2k.

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Sitting by the radio, watching the rotating spools of a TDK 90 minute cassette as they consigned the gig of my lifetime to a strip of magnetically coated plastic, I made myself a promise: I would never miss out on anything ever again. A difficult pledge to adhere to, but one I strive to uphold.

I have since seen Oasis play at Finsbury Park, The City of Manchester and Wembley Stadia, and had a whale of a time in the process. But that 1996 Knebworth Park performance was the peak of their power and the pinnacle of a Britpop era that punctuated my puberty. Everything after that, being brazenly and brutally honest, was watching the group in decline.

I openly admit that I enjoy the longevity of following horses that jump over fences and hurdles in the National Hunt arena year after year, but sometimes their demise can also be protracted. Whilst the flat may not always lavish upon us the same depth of character that its winter/spring counterpart delivers, it is difficult to argue against the pure, unabated qualities of the Classic generation.

So, not to miss out, I went to Doncaster a few weeks ago hoping to see history being rewritten before my eyes as Camelot seized the triple-crown. I wasn’t convinced though, and layed the Coolmore colt to the tune of about £200 [I’m aware it should probably be spelt “laid” but I prefer my way when it comes to betting]. Yes, I can say “I was there”, but this experience didn’t fill the bon viveur void that I’ve been searching for since 1996.

It mattered not. Seeing Frankel in the flesh at Ascot last year was my Knebworth. Heading back to Berkshire tomorrow to bid him farewell, I have read, listened and watched as journalists, pundits and enthusiasts discuss the issues. The sub-plots are enchanting: Will the ground be a problem for him? Is Cirrus des Aigles the toughest opponent he is yet to encounter? Isn’t it fitting that Nathaniel, whom Frankel met in his first race at Newmarket in 2010, should bookend his old foe’s career at a track where he has had much success himself? What will St Nicholas Abbey be making of it all? Has Excelebration become so accustomed to being whipped by Frankel that, rather than celebrating his Queen Elizabeth II Stakes victory tomorrow, he’ll be found back in his box, miserably leafing through a copy of 50 Shades of Grey to satisfy some kind of equine sadomasochism?

Most readers of this blog will be familiar with most of that already. So, with only four competitors lining up alongside “The Freak”, discounting stable mate and pacemaker Bullet Train, this is how I see the result panning out tomorrow:

Frankel – I can’t bear the thought of him & Queally flopping. He will win.

Nathaniel – I love Buick and have fond memories of his King George win here, after which Gosden’s words to the media in the wake of Rewilding’s death provided a particularly poignant moment. I think Nathaniel can bounce back from enforced absence at Longchamp and overturn the rivalry with Cirrus des Aigles, with whom I expect him to be jousting for the runner-up spot.

Cirrus des Aigles – I was hoping Christophe Soumillon would come over to exorcise his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe demons, but maybe he is still bitter about his huge fine in this race last year... although probably not. Olivier Peslier clearly knows how to guide “Cloud of the Eagles” to victory but I’m sure he will settle for a win on board exciting sprinter Wizz Kid instead.

Pastorius – Tipped up at 10-1 (without Frankel) in theWeekender by Paul Kealy, he’s had three wins and a place in his last four outings back home in Germany. 16 years ago his jockey, Frankie Dettori "did a Hughsie" at Ascot (1996 certainly was an eventful year) and many will rightly see his partnership with this course-specialist rider as a real positive. All my sentiment and emotion has already been used up for this race though, so I’m sticking with the above Trifecta.

Master of Hounds – Figures of 3181 coming into this and only catches the eye as he’s in the hands of Ryan Moore.

Bullet Train – One of the best pacemakers out there, but that’s it for now. Behind every great golfer is a clued-up caddy, and Bullet Train pulls out the correct club for Frankel every time.

Even on testing, boggy ground coming round Swinley Bottom, I expect Tom Queally to be characteristically calm and composed on the back of Frankel, with whom he has developed a beautifully harmonious rhythm. I’m looking forward to Queally opening up the son of Galileo in front of the packed grandstands and winning by a decent margin. Five lengths or more is trading at 2.62 (about 13/8) on Betfair at the moment and I think that’s a fair price for a 2pt+ stake.

But my main advice for the race, clichéd as it may be, is to savour the final outing of a living legend performing at the zenith of his abilities. Sing along when he holds the microphone in your direction, hold your lighters aloft and say “I was there”. And if you were not actually there, don’t fret – my mum told me in 1996 that I’d get another chance... I did, and you will. It might just take a few years, so Roll With It.

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