2011 Sussex Stakes: English Language Not Invented to Describe Frankel

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2011 Sussex Stakes: English Language Not Invented to Describe Frankel
Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

If you asked me to name one problem with the English language, and of course there are several, I wouldn't hesitate in my response. There just aren't enough superlatives yet invented to describe Frankel, the lexicon not evolved enough to accurately describe what he did Wednesday afternoon at Glorious Goodwood to all of three other horses, the track itself and the racing world.

If ever the English language could be called dull, if ever the English language could be called incomplete, it was Wednesday morning when Frankel blew Canford Cliffs so firmly away in what will go down as one of the most impressive races ever.

Language concerns aside, you didn't have to listen to be impressed; you didn't need words—not even the six from the fabled cliché, a picture paints a thousands words—to digest what Frankel did in the Sussex Stakes. All you needed was to see Juddmonte's colors and appreciate. 

But after the race was over, or rather, after Frankel's workout ended and Canford Cliffs won the race to the line with Rio de La Plata in what will be forgotten as the only true battle of the afternoon, words were needed, and they failed us.

Of course, many threw out the favorite phrase of choice, “greatest of all time,” or the less-hyperbolic but equally fun “greatest since [insert horse],” and I'm not singling anyone out. We all did it. I did it myself, calling him “maybe the greatest sine [sic] Dancing Brave” and possibly “since Secretariat” in a hastily-written Facebook post. Who cares about innocent spelling when in the company of legends?

Even Sir Henry Cecil, who wasn't yet elevated to knight when Frankel first came to his barn about a year ago, donned honors on his famous colt, calling him “the greatest I've ever seen.”

And the racing fans, or at least those in the Twitterverse, eagerly awaited the Timeform classification.

“Wonder if this will bring him to Brigadier Gerard territory?” tweeted pedigree writer Sid Fernando, in reference to the 144 rating—second-highest ever—the super-colt once recorded.

We all made comparisons of some sort, but no one accurately summed up what Frankel had done; no one accurately talked about Frankel's race and just his race, because there really isn't a language to describe it.

Two furlongs out, Frankel kicked away. But it wasn't just that. He's kicked away before, kicked far, far away before half-way in the 2,000 Guineas, kicked far, far away in the Prince James's Palace Stakes long before he should have, almost too soon, almost disastrously too soon. But kicked away doesn't sound right on this occasion

That final furlong, he powered home. But it wasn't just that. He's powered home before, maybe not in the Prince James's Palace, but almost every race before that. The only time he didn't was when he coasted home. And maybe he did that too Wednesday, powering and coasting home simultaneously, because he's good enough to do both at once. But still, neither phrase captures the emotion correctly.

And at the wire, my jaw dropped because it's supposed to drop when this happens, at the wire, where the RacingUK announcer called Frankel a freak, where many of us couldn't say anything more profound than wow—heck, saying wow was too much for some, so difficult that typing was the only communicative capacity not hindered—there wasn't really anything worthwhile to say.

Frankel's race, his complete performance—I hesitate to use dominance because I've seen dominance, and it was nothing like that—was so unique, so convincing, so unprecedented in five centuries of human civilization that we hadn't the adequate vocabulary yet to describe it.

And there's nothing wrong with that. If anything about Frankel's performance wasn't so inconceivable, it was that it was inconceivable. We've faced the unknown plenty of times before, and on each occasion, we've moved forward.

Over the course of his 38 plays, Shakespeare invented somewhere in the vicinity of 1,700 words. Seventeen-hundred-words. And the English language has been fuller for it.

Warren Harding, as part of his campaign to win the Presidency, coined the term normalcy, the state of things returning to how we want them to be and are used to them being.

As situations occur, we've adjusted and made words to fit what couldn't be described. We've made the impossible possimpible and found truthiness when hidden.

And, in the aftermath of Frankel, in the aftermath of Frankel finding the wire all by himself, a racehorse running a race not worthy of calling itself a race in his presence, we'll eventually find those words. Eventually, there will be that word that describes what Frankel so uniquely did to Glorious Goodwood.

There will be that word that shows how fully he embarrassed a horse like Canford Cliffs who, in any other year, deserved to run and deserved to win the Sussex Stakes. It wasn't fluke that gave Canford Cliffs victory last year in this very race.

Maybe his name will become a verb like so many nouns before it. I hope not, but I wouldn't complain if my son one day talked about how he frankeled his final exam.

But for now, and until such a word exists, let's just appreciate what Frankel did, make the obligatory comparisons to champions of bygone eras, elevate him to levels of esteem that he may or may not yet be worthy of, and revel in the glory that he brought to Goodwood on the last Wednesday afternoon of July. Because really, that's all we can do.

If there is a word that best sums up Frankel's Sussex, even if it only sums it up weakly, it's: appreciate.

I appreciate what Frankel did today and thousands of people worldwide can likewise relate. It's far from common to see something like that.

There's no perfect word—at least yet—to describe the perfect performance, but it doesn't mean we cannot appreciate.

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