This week Alan talks himself hoarse on how exactly you become legendary in your sporting field. What exactly must you overcome to become legendary?
As Frankel crossed the line to win the Ascot Champion Stakes on Saturday, he completed his fourteenth consecutive win and cemented his place as one of the finest racehorses ever raced on British soil. Following on from this win, it is likely that Frankel will be retired undefeated into stud and will fondly be remembered as a legend of horse racing, being as much of a staple of the sport as Tony McCoy and Red Rum. But it has to be considered that perhaps this shouldn’t be presumed, and the fact must remain that surely consistency and consistency alone can’t create a legend.
Muhammed Ali is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, and over the course of his career he can be described as extremely consistent, having won 56 of his 61 professional fights. It was not this consistency however that created the legend. It was moments like his remarkable regaining of the World Heavyweight Title from George Foreman in the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” aged 32 that cemented his legacy. It was not the number of fights that Ali won that has him remembered as the best of all time, but rather facing, and beating, the best the world had to throw at him and the unforgettable moments that this created that formed the legend. Sir Roger Bannister is rightly regarded an athletics legend in spite of the fact that he never won an Olympic medal, and only won a solitary European gold. His status as a legend is undeniable however due to the fact that he was the first man to run a mile sub four minutes. Bannister was by no means consistent, but the “where were you when” moment that he created when he breached the four minute mile cements his legacy.
Conversely, there have been situations where consistency has certainly been present, but the legendary status is not considered appropriate. Manchester United won the English Premier League three seasons in a row between 2006 and 2009, showing remarkable consistency and the unteachable cliché of being able to “win like champions”. However, in spite of the great consistency required to win three league titles in a row, as well as a European Cup in 2008, this Manchester United side are not considered legends. They have no defining moment, and are by no means up there with the greatest teams produced by Sir Alex Ferguson. The impetus on Cristiano Ronaldo, combined with unimpressive football domestically, generated real question marks over the true quality of the side, and the extent to which luck and poor quality of opposition played a part.
So where does that leave Frankel as he approaches the likely announcement of his retirement? The fact of the matter remains that although the horse has beaten everything placed in front of him, he’s never created the decisive moment. The 2000 Guineas is the only race of real significance that the horse has won, and even then the opposition that day was not that of a world class field. Question marks also have to be asked of opportunities that Henry Cecil has turned down for his prized horse. Black Caviar has dominated over its opposition in a similar fashion over a comparable distance in recent years and yet the two have never raced in the same field. Furthermore, the failure to end the horse’s career with a big race such as the Arc de Triomphe suggests the horse is being protected, and that akin to boxers being given easy fights, the trainer is not convinced that all on comers could be defeated.
So the question has to be asked: Can Frankel legitimately be referred to as a legend of horse racing, and a legend of sport more generally? Whilst my opinion would clearly dictate that the lack of a truly awe-inspiring moment and question marks which remain over potential races that we never seen would detract from his legendary status, I’m not convinced that the horse himself would mind too much. This is due greatly to the fact that he is being moved to a cosy horsey retirement home, and has plenty of horse sex to look forward to, but mostly, I feel that Frankel wouldn’t mind because he is after all, a horse, and probably doesn’t care or understand what I have to say either way.