For people who do earn their living from horse racing, the problem with rating horses by achievement and capability is that it is almost impossible to keep emotion and favouritism from clouding the issue. Coldly, perhaps without sufficient reflection time and no doubt with a wholly impartial eye, the Racing Post have come to the conclusion that in winning the Arc Enable achieved a rating of 129, a full point below Workforce, a decidedly average Group 1 horse. In fact, I had forgotten Workforce had won an Arc. Danedream, as easy an Arc winner as there has been in recent times, is rated a point below Enable.
Now, and I accept this without question, you can only make such assessments from the cold statistics that each Arc gives us. Enable beat Cloth of Stars 2 and a half lengths receiving 10lbs. She won easily. At no point in the race was any other result even remotely likely. But did she have 10lb in hand. Would she have won at level weights? Yes, I hear you say, Enable is 3-year-old, whereas Cloth of Stars and Ulysses are 4-year-olds, plus she is a filly, and is entitled to receive an allowance on account of her being weaker through being a year younger and weaker because she is a filly racing against colts.
Then there is the argument that though the opposition was good, this year’s Arc didn’t really sparkle with top-rank Group I horses. Cloth of Stars is undoubtedly a classy horse but he has never on any occasion made the heart flutter as Enable has done. Will he in the future? Ulysses is not a proven 1 and a half mile horse and Order of St.George is a stayer without a turn of foot.
I will apply the same argument to Sea The Stars, Racing Post’s top-rated Arc winner of recent years. Better, to my surprise, than Treve in 2013. Or perhaps any Arc winner.
My point is this: to determine an order of ‘greatness’ retrospection is required. Those who compile ratings should revisit their ratings every decade or so to determine how the beaten horses, and indeed the winners, fared in later races and in later seasons. Cloth of Stars may have run above himself or next season he might prove unbeatable, an Arc winner himself. Next year he will only have to give Enable 3lbs.
As anyone who has read my ramblings in the past will know – and I could bore for Queen & Country on the issue – I have a poor opinion of horses cited as champions, as ‘a horse of a lifetime’ as was attributed to Sea The Stars, who are retired to the stallion barn at the end of their 3-year-old season. Horses do not develop a full set of teeth until they are 5, which implies that it is impossible to know how good a horse was on the track if he is retired before he is fully matured, before it is his turn to give weight to younger horses. As I have said many many times, Sea The Stars, Dancing Brave, Nijinsky, and so on, were at best ‘the best of their generation’. We will never know how truly great they might have become because they were rushed off to stud before their value could be diminished by proving unable to give weight to younger rivals. (Nijinsky was rushed off to stud because his owner was dying and he wanted to see his foals)
Putting the cold light of statistical fact to one side and allowing emotion into the equation I would say Enable was a decisive winner of an average Arc. The eye and heart tells me she is at least the equal of Treve. She might be better. She certainly dominates her races in a way that Treve perhaps never did. But then Treve won two Arcs; and that is what Prince Khalid must allow Enable the opportunity to achieve. He proved with Frankel that a horse can be better at four than three. If he had kept him in training as a 5-year-old I am quite certain that the question of who is the greatest racehorse of all time would be rendered moot. And if a Sea The Stars were to appear next season he would be far easier to assess if he raced against Enable than he would if he only beat horses of his own generation or won the Arc receiving weight from older, if lesser, horses.
We must not go overboard with adulation for Enable. Like Sea The Stars and Dancing Brave she has only proved to be the best of her generation. Others will differ from my opinion, but she has an awful lot yet to prove if she is to be considered one of the all-time greats. And flat racing does not throw up that standard of racehorse very often. Before Frankel you have to go back to Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef. Before that Ribot.
Frankie Dettori has hinted that Enable is the best he has ever ridden. I just hope that come this time next year he will not be hinting but stating the fact loud and clear
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.