Britain. Land of the free. Forefathers of the Industrial Revolution. Architect of world leading sports. Eternal underachievers and a nation of well rounded, slow cooked pessimists.
For upon our fair green pastures, above our towering, imperious white cliffs, Old Blighty has learnt the hard way that constant general goodness, rather than boom and bust opulence and depression, is a tonic we are comfortable with. Nothing too far out of the ordinary, out of our vision or out of the generally moderate realms of our imagination will do very nicely, thank you Mr Paddy, Signor Juan and Xiao Xing Xhop.
Revolutions flood every other nation in undeterred waves, yet Britain stands firm, allergic to such peculiar, unnecessary and distasteful actions. Credit crunches crumble cities as citizens queue for dole, unemployment multiplying – Britain is certainly not fully immune, but the symptoms are less severe than our plate smashing Greek friends, who now wish they’d smashed slightly fewer. Even the weather; please tell me one other country which has a word for damp, overcast and drizzly, yet experiences climatic extremes and nationwide exclamation at -1 and +30 degrees Celsius?
And us Brits are thoroughly comfortable in our happy state of constant goodness, whilst other nations boom and bust around us, Empires falling to slave hood before reigniting 20, 40 or 100 years later like a phoenix from the flames.
It is in sport where this phenomenon is brought closer to home. Our recent memory shows an England football team who have progressed through their qualifying group, before losing on penalties – the nation cries and points the finger at Lady Luck, shrugs and gets on with business, another anticlimax…”but it couldn’t have been worse!”. And on to Wimbledon, playground of the underachiever – how many times must Henman Hill or Murray Mound moan and groan and roll their eyes to the sky? We’re English, we get knocked out in the quarters or the semis, it’s what we do! Formula 1, where have Button and Hamilton gone, oh-so brief residents at the top of the tree? Darts we can manage, but it’s learnt, trained and fought in a pub, a place more British than Buckingham Palace, Wormwood Scrubs and Yorkshire.
Last week however provided a very strange experience. At Royal Ascot, land owned by the Queen of the British Isles and Northern Ireland, I bore witness to a most un-British of displays. On Tuesday 19th June a horse, who I have mentioned before on these pages, turned up to further his career and build on his gigantic reputation.
Frankel entered the meeting unbeaten, 10 victories from 10 starts and earnings in the region of £1.5m. Head and shoulders above anything served up to him from all corners of the Flat racing fraternity, he punished and pulverised them with unerring power; merciless and brilliant. He runs in a different fashion to his peers, oozes strength, class and confidence and doesn’t give anything or anyone a look in. He doesn’t need to rely on luck. He is, to use a crudely overused word, unique.
And it was with this colossal bullet train of a reputation trailing in his wake that brought an atmosphere of quiet and nerves to the Berkshire racecourse. “By winning, what would Frankel prove? But… the cost of losing, now that was unimaginable! Oh God, pray to the high heavens, pray he doesn’t slip on the comedy banana-skin!”.
And so descended a cloak of uncertainty, almost tangible the chattering of teeth, palms sweaty like that of the undertaker. British expectations, or lack of, and years of anticlimax and underachievement, have left a nervous wreck, incapable of grasping the moment and truly enjoying the spectacle before us.
Frankel is trained in England, by an Englishman, a man knighted as a Member of the British Empire. Surely he was bound to stumble and fall on his face, shrug his shoulders, be ridiculed in the press and quietly fade into retirement?
No. He won. Incredibly. Absolutely astoundingly. He trounced, demolished and humiliated a tried and tested ensemble of classy rivals. Merciless. Blood thirsty. Pure and brilliant.
It was a wonder to see, a sporting achievement which makes me proud to my toes to have been present at. Not only did Frankel win, he surpassed the heaven high reputation he has built over two long years, leaving dreams in tact, a hero undefeated. A prospect which seemed unthinkable, Frankel lived up to the hype…and some.
11 lengths clear of Excelebration, a Group 1 winner himself, Frankel burnt his opponents off with blistering pace, a searing conviction, no doubt and utter power. He won going away and was a true example of equine, and sporting, greatness.
After the race there was an eyrie feel around the Royal Ascot grandstand. He didn’t lose? He won?! He won really, really well. He did what he was supposed to do, and didn’t fall face first into the mud. Oh. Good.
I love Britain. I love our constant state of goodness. I love our stiff backbone, our tempered culture, adjusted to centuries of anticlimax. But to dream to the giddy heights of Zeus, to try your best, to fulfil your potential, and to succeed in a relentless and all-conquering fashion every now and again? Well, in my very short and recent experience, that’s pretty bloody amazing and worth exploring further.
So charge your glass of London Pride, stand firm with stiff lip and cool eye, dream to the heavens of the taste of true greatness, and you too one day may sit on the sofa or in the grandstand and witness the joy of fulfilment.
By Daniel Polak