Paris: Frankel and his trainer Henry Cecil, the unbeaten colt and his cancer-stricken handler, gave racing rare front page headlines in 2012.
However, by year’s end the sport was on the front pages for the wrong reasons as legendary jockey Frankie Dettori was banned for six months for failing a dope test.
While Dettori will be back in time for the blue riband of the turf, the Epsom Derby on June 1, Frankel will not, but the performances he produced will be hard to eclipse.
Frankel, named after one of owner Prince Khalid Abdullah’s former American trainers Bobby, who died of cancer, carried on from where he left off last year, winning five Group One races to take him to 14 wins from 14.
Cecil said Frankel’s seven-length win in his penultimate race, the International Stakes at York in August, had taken 30 years off his life such was the joy he felt.
For many, the obvious way to crown Frankel as the greatest ever was to have a crack over a distance he had never raced before, 1.5 miles (2.4km) in Europe’s most prestigious race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Cecil, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011, decided to give it a miss, with the 69-year-old dismissing the critics of that decision by saying “they have never sat on a horse”.
Longchamp’s loss was Ascot’s gain as Cecil opted for the Champion Stakes on the appropriately named Champions Day, with the raceday sold out within hours.
Soft going and then a stumble at the start augured ill for the final outcome. However, Frankel, ridden as always by Tom Queally, used the roar of 40,000 racegoers as inspiration as they entered the home straight.
The duo had one and three-quarter lengths to spare over top class French runner Cirrus des Aigles and the cheers rang out and lasted so long that Frankel did an unheard of two rounds of the parade ring before he exited for the last time.
“I cannot believe in the history of racing that there has ever been a better racehorse,” said Cecil, who insisted that he would not quit.
“The only retirement I’m doing is taking a well-earned holiday,” he said.
Those hoping to see a new champion may not have to wait long as Dawn Approach, who won a perfect six from six in the two-year-old’s maiden campaign, gave the Dubai-based Godolphin operation reason to smile.
In the Arc, it should have been Japan celebrating the prize they have sought for so long as Orfevre stormed from an unfavourable draw to lead in the straight, only to inexplicably wander across to the rail and be overhauled by Solemia in the final few metres.
“It looked like it was a dream unfolding but in the end it was a catastrophe, a nightmare,” said Orfevre’s distraught jockey Christophe Soumillon.
Orfevre got revenge of a sort six weeks later, when Solemia finished down the field in the Japan Cup, but once again he had to make do with second, this time behind crack Japanese filly Gentildonna.
While Orfevre may not have another chance to set the record straight in the Arc — he will be five next year — the Sei Ishizaka-trained filly looks the type to finally give Japan their moment of glory. “It’s [the Arc] every Japanese horseman’s dream,” Ishizaka said.