Racing: Frankel, the boy from Brooklyn, is ready to rumble
Friday 28 October 2005
For inside was his master, the trainer who has gained a reputation for being an irascible Vesuvius of opinion. Inside was Bobby Frankel.
Yet Frankel is not really so angry any more. He has got little to be angry about. With over 3,000 winners on the board, Frankel is acknowledged as a master craftsman of horseflesh. He has horses in California and he has horses here at Belmont Park, back where it all started 50 years ago.
Frankel is from Brooklyn and if you did not know you would soon work it out. He has the accent and he has the attitude and the quick judgements keep coming. Frankel rather likes the fact he has emerged from a non-racing background.
"Maybe that was an advantage for me," he said yesterday. "You don't get certain things set in your mind, certain ideas that you grew up with. You got a clear head and you make your own judgements. I've heard things at the racetrack that have been passed down from era to era that are pure bullshit."
As a boy, Frankel used to take the ferry ride to Monmouth Park or drive with his folks down the I-95 to Baltimore and Pimlico. This is his 'hood. "I'd go down to the candy store in Far Rockaway every night at 7.30 when the [Daily Racing] Form came out," he said. "I'd handicap all night long and then go out to the races the next day."
Then he started hotwalking and, after three months of that, he was a trainer. "I'd get up, go to the barn, stay at the barn friggin' all day long until six at night. I was a workaholic. I didn't know where I was going but I always tried to be No 1.
"I believe if you work hard enough the opportunities come along. I've seen down the years everybody gets a chance. It's just a question of grabbing it when it shows up."
In his early career, Frankel was known as King of the Claimers. "The thing then, and it always will be, was to win," he said. "I've seen guys claim a horse for $10,000 and be happy when it runs second in a $30,000 claimer. They think that's a big deal. Winning is the big deal. People remember winners. Second is the first loser."
One who noticed was Khalid Abdullah. The Saudi owner started sending Frankel horses in 1990 and the trainer detected this was his moment. He did not let it wander by. "I was in the right place at the right time," he said. "Where in the world do you get better bred horses than these?"
Yet, for many years, the Breeders' Cup series was a desert for Frankel. He was 0 for 36 coming into the 2001 running. Then Squirtle Squirt snapped the schneid, as they say in these parts.
"If you look at it, I only started one favourite," Frankel added. "That was Bertrando and he got beaten by Arcangues [André Fabre's 134-1 winner at Santa Anita in 1993]. He ran well but a freakish thing happened. When Arcangues went by I didn't know who he was. It took me five minutes to find out."
All the money has not gone to Frankel's head. In fact, it is hard to see where it has gone at all. The 64-year-old trainer emerged into the chill fall air yesterday wearing a distressed windcheater, jeans and a brown baseball hat. Grooming, it seems, is reserved purely for the horses.
Around him, the staff seemed eager to please. "I still get a little hot," the trainer once told me. "I just try to get the job done, so they need my attention once in a while. You hate to yell, but sometimes it's the only way to get to someone."
The trainer will be yelling the horses home tomorrow, when he has three representatives at Breeders' Cup XXII. The best of them looks to be Leroidesanimaux, favourite for the Mile. The Brazilian-born horse has done something strange to his conditioner. He has led him, for the first time, into the world of understatement.
"Put it this way," Bobby Frankel said, "I've looked at the race and I'll be a little disappointed if he doesn't win."
Richard Edmondson has won the Joe Hirsch Breeders' Cup Writing Award for his piece on Funny Cide in 2004. It is the second time he has collected the award and remains the only non-North American to have won the competition.
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