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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

So good they named a horse after him – not a bad horse either

Nicholas Godfrey on the US training legend whose 2003 record has been eclipsed

Legendary figure: five-time US champion trainer Bobby Frankel, pictured at Santa Anita in 2008
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You don't get the best horse in British racing history named after you without being some kind of legend – and Bobby Frankel was certainly a legend.

The irascible but much loved trainer, whose world record for top-level victories in a single season has just been eclipsed by Aidan O'Brien, was one of the most respected figures in the modern era of US racing.

Best known in Europe as the American trainer for Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte operation, Frankel was a leading handler in the States for four decades before his death in California in November 2009 at the age of 68 after a long battle with leukaemia.

Such was his relationship with Abdullah that the owner was to name a certain promising Sir Henry Cecil-trained colt after him – Frankel, the horse, duly went on to a celebrated unbeaten career to enter racing folklore.

The trainer was associated with a succession of American champions, notably Breeders' Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper and others like Bertrando and Ginger Punch. Five times champion trainer, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995.

Known as Bobby to others, though he preferred Robert himself, Frankel was a native Brooklynite who started off playing the claiming game in New York before achieving fame as a trainer after moving to California in the early 1970s via a succession of training titles at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita.

He won at least one Grade 1 event every year from 1988 until his death; fittingly, his final Grade 1 win in October 2009 came with Juddmonte's Champs Elysees in the Canadian International at Woodbine, much of Frankel's success having come with similar former European turf performers.

According to Equibase statistics, Frankel won 3,654 races from 17,657 starters in North America, where his horses earned $227,912,709, sixth on the all-time money list behind Todd Pletcher. Such was his dominance in California that fellow trainer Julio Canani nicknamed him 'Presidente' in admiration.

Although the Kentucky Derby eluded Frankel, his CV is littered with major victories including six Breeders' Cup races.

He also won the Japan Cup in 1988 with Pay The Butler, plus several major races with ex-European-trained horses such as dual Pacific Classic winner Tinners Way (originally with John Gosden), Arlington Million winners Chester House and Beat Hollow (both ex-Henry Cecil), and Breeders' Cup winner Ventura (formerly with Amanda Perrett).

A list of Frankel's big-race wins on the west coast could virtually fill a telephone directory, headed by the Grade 1 jewels in the Californian crown: Del Mar's Pacific Classic six times, the Santa Anita Handicap (three), Hollywood Gold Cup (three), Hollywood Turf Cup (four).

Frankel won the first of five Eclipse awards as champion trainer in 1993, then repeated the dose seven years later, the first of four successive titles. He established the record mark for most Group or Grade 1 winners in a single season in 2003, when he recorded 25 victories at the top level, all of them in the US, featuring 14 different horses.

The prolific Juddmonte dirt filly Sightseek was the most successful of the contributors with four Grade 1 wins, while top three-year-old Empire Maker won three, among them the Belmont Stakes, the only success Frankel ever enjoyed in a Triple Crown race. In the process, he thwarted Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid.

Frankel's 2003 tally did not feature any Breeders' Cup victories, although the 2004 Classic winner Ghostzapper – the best horse he ever trained – recorded a runaway success in the Vosburgh at Belmont Park. Top sprinter-miler Aldebaran won three Grade 1s for the Niarchos family, while Juddmonte turf females Heat Haze and Tates Creek won a couple each, as did leading three-year-old Peace Rules.

An obituary in the Daily Racing Form offered an insight into Frankel's personality.

"Frankel was known as a bit of a grouch, one who complained long and loud when he saw something wrong," it said. "He could be playful and witty one moment, a pitbull the next. But his gruff exterior masked a man who would get choked up when misfortune befell one of his horses."


March Milwaukee Brew Santa Anita Hcap Santa Anita

March Aldebaran San Carlos Hcap Santa Anita

March Empire Maker Florida Derby Gulfstream Park

April Empire Maker Wood Memorial Aqueduct

April Peace Rules Blue Grass Keeneland

May Sightseek Humana Distaff Churchill Downs

May Tates Creek Gamely Hcap Hollywood Park

May Aldebaran Met Mile Belmont Park

June Denon Manhattan Hcap Belmont Park

June Empire Maker Belmont Stakes Belmont Park

June Sightseek Ogden Phipps Hcap Belmont Park

June Spoken Fur Mother Goose Belmont Park

July Spoken Fur CCA Oaks Belmont Park

July Megahertz John C Mabee Hcap Del Mar

July Sightseek Go For Wand Saratoga Sightseek

August Medaglia D'Oro Whitney Hcap Saratoga

August Peace Rules Haskell Invitational Monmouth Park

August Heat Haze Beverly D Arlington Park

August Aldebaran Forego Hcap Saratoga

Sept Wild Spirit Ruffian Hcap Belmont Park

Sept Ghostzapper Vosburgh Belmont Park

Sept Tates Creek Yellow Ribbon Santa Anita

Oct Sightseek Beldame Belmont Park

Nov Continuously Hollywood Turf Cup Hollywood Park

Nov Heat Haze Matriarch Hollywood Park 

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He could be playful and witty one moment, a pitbull the next
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