Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Bobby Frankel: Passing of a Master (7/9/41-11/16/09)

Posted by Brian Appleton on November 17, 2009

Bobby Frankel

When talking about by Bobby Frankel and all the incredible things he accomplished in his illustrious training career, the only question that comes to mind is: “What didn’t he win?”

One of the most well know, respected and successful trainers of all time in Thoroughbred Horse Racing, Bobby Frankel passed away early Monday morning at the age of 68 after fighting a recurrence of lymphoma. He was known as being very opinionated when it came to his horses or anything to do with racing, but could also be the most heartwarming person you had ever met. I remember when I was attending the 2007 Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park, one of the things I was looking forward to seeing was Ginger Punch running in the Distaff and her trainer Bobby Frankel. Ginger

Ginger Punch

Punch won the Distaff in thrilling style, but Frankel was not there. He had stayed at home to be with his beloved Australian Shepherd, Happy who was near death. That was one of the most touching stories I had ever heard regarding someone so huge in the racing industry. Sacrificing one of the biggest days in his career to be with his dying dog, you can’t get much more devoted or tender than that.

When I began to research Bobby Frankel’s life and career, I was astonished at the magnitude of his accomplishments. Starting in 1970, Frankel won 30 training titles at Saratoga, 13 at Hollywood Park, 11 at Santa Anita (including the Oak Tree Meet) and 5 at Del Mar. 2008 was his last full year of training, a year in which his stable ranked fourth in the nation’s standing with $11.7 million. He also won 11 Grade 1 races, the most of any other trainer. He trained 11 horses to championship


titles, including Gostzapper, Ginger Punch and Bertrando. He won races like the Gamely and Matriarch 8 times each, the Eddie Read 7 times, Charles Whittingham Memorail 6 times and set a record for the same number in the Pacific Classic. He also won the Woodward, Forego and Met Mile each 4 times. On final tally, he won 3,654 races in his career, and is second only to D. Wayne Lucas in earnings with $227, 947,775. The list goes on and on, I’ve barely begun to scratched the surface.

In 1968, Frankel relocated to California and in 1972 he set a single season record of 60 wins at the Hollywood Park spring meet. This was accomplished almost entirely with claimers. Two years earlier he had the biggest win of his career in the Suburban Handicap with a horse he had claimed for $15,000, named Barometer.

The void left by his passing will eventually be filled, but the man and his achievements will never be forgotten or equaled.

 Rest in peace Mr. Frankel.


20 Responses to “Bobby Frankel: Passing of a Master (7/9/41-11/16/09)”

  1. PEM said

    Guy knew what he was doing–had one experience with the man–some years ago at the spa-rather not hash it out now but it was pretty ugly.

    You know it’s funny but I had just talked to a buddy who was with me that time and we both agreed-after we had both thought-I mean had thought for years-that Frankel was a jerk and had been very rude and arrogant—-well we both realized we’d probably handled our end of the deal very poorly…and that maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy …..maybe he was just trying to win a race and we didn’t have any right to bug him at that time–(I’m kind of mentally free-forming at this time-no I have NOT been drinking!LOL!) anyway someday I’ll fill in all the blanks on this deal—bottom line-deal went south–horse didn’t sell–I guess we blamed all this on Frankel too so we were very angry at the guy for years.

    SO–WHAT I GUESS I AM TRYING TO SAY HERE….just a couple of weeks ago…knowing nothing of Robert (He hated Bobby by the way) Frankel’s condition my friend Jim and I both suddenly realized (other person with us that day long since dead himself) that Frankel wasn’t such a jerk-that we had been the idiots-and that we no longer wished him bad luck-and that we had no right to dislike him.

    And I have to say with his passing I am very glad that Jim and I both came to realize we were wrong and had this little epiphany and made peace with the situation before Frankel was gone!

    And while this probably makes almost no sense to anyone but the three of us involved I find writing this strangely cathartic.

    Anyway I will fill in the rest of the details sometime if you’re interested. Tomorrow I’ll head up to Tampa Bay Downs and see the horses and trainers that are showing up-have coffee with some people I haven’t seen since NY late this summer or Boston at Suffrin Downs in July or Chicago in June or even since last April in Tampa. It’s an exciting time-optimistic time of year. And I’ll hear some more stories. I know some good ones.


    • Thanks for sharing, I’m glad you were able to “resolve” the situation before he died. I’d love to hear your stories, anything related to horse racing interest me a great deal.

      • PEM said

        I’ll tell you Brian it is a really lousy business-the wins are so hard to come by-so many forces against you—–but man when you win that first race and you run down to the Winner’s Circle and you don’t even feel the steps the stairs just seem to lift up to your feet–man there is nothing in the world like it!

        Then again when a horse breaks down and gets the green needle and there’s not a thing you can do and you go back and look at the empty stall with his nameplate still fixed on the wall next to the hay net-still filled with what he’d been picking at–you have to wonder if it’s worth it at all.

        Bottom line-yeah the highs are worth the lows-if you’re lucky and have a strong stomach. And have honest trainers (that’s a very rare thing in itself).

        Personally I’m down to one horse right now–business, my business that is-is really, really bad right now and I can barely afford this guy. He’s built like an Adonis and won his second race by a pole (that was almost 3 years ago) and has turned out to have the heart of a possum. Had a workout at Calder today-has won for 20K , hell he’s won for 50K–but runs when he feels like it-mails it in the rest of the time. Drives all the trainers crazy–he’s just been a huge dissapointment.

        Oh well, maybe next time right?


      • Great story PEM, thanks! What’s the name of your horse?
        I own a small percentage of a horse based in NY, his name is Lord Greystoke. He’s raced three times and is a three year old gelding. He placed second and third in his first two tries then they found a knee chip in his front leg. He just returned to training at Belmont, hopefully going to return to the races in December. If my schooling allows I’m going to attend, take LOTS of pictures and do a post on him. Hopefully he runs well, I think he will. (:

  2. Wow….great article, but even better story in the comments (that’s what I love about blog posts – so much more than just a dry newspaper article – the comments can take on a life of their own).

    Frankel’s always been a big name trainer – one of the first I learned to fear and respect when handicapping.

    GREAT story, PEM. And fantastic article, Brian.

    • Absolutely! That’s why I LOVE blogging, lets everyone from everwhere connect and share opinions. I’m from CT so I’m a ways from all the racetracks. This helps me bear it. (:
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Kevin, I always look forward to seeing what you have to say!

  3. Brian,

    Right back at ya!!! Good stuff.

    I think that PEM comment is a great learning experience for us all!

    • Thanks! I was uploading my tribute to Frankel and while I was waited I checked your blog and noticed you had done the same thing.
      I just heard yesterday that his last starter won in the race, a fitting end.

  4. Carla Ruth said

    Great article Brian! I was also touched when Bobby Frankel missed the Breeders’ Cup to stay with his dog. Also, I’m kind of in the same horse racing “boat” as you are living in TX. I watch most of the big ones on TV, although I have made it to 2 BCs, one at LSP and one at CD. Also made it to the Arkansas Derby for the first time this year. I had really wanted to go to the BC this year because I knew it would be the last chance to see Zenyatta, but I couldn’t pull it off. I’m hoping that Rachel will come back to Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom so I might have a chance to see her in the “flesh”!

    • Thank you Carla, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my “suffering”. (:
      I went to the 2007 Breeders Cup at Monmouth, that was an amazing experiance! I’m hoping to make it somehow next year to CD, especially if Rachel is running.

  5. PEM said

    Brian-the one I still own is named FORBIDDEN COLONY–a son of the great turf miler Forbidden Apple–who has produced not a whole lot on the track.

    I think he’ll be starting at Calder within the next couple of weeks-probably in for a nickle-he’s sound-he’s beautiful to look at-looks nice in the morning-and is gutless in the afternoon. Of course he hasn’t been right since the reins broke on him at Gulfstream last spring and he slammed the rail and the jock-trying to gain control grabbed at the bridle and managed to pull the blinks right over the poor bastard’s eyes so he basically banged off the rail blindly from the top of the turn till the pony picked him up after the wire.

    Trust me is is a long, slow, very quiet ride across the Everglades back to Tampa after an outing like that. And now the horse has a screw loose-like he didn’t already.

    Did I ever tell you this was a lousy business? Oh well-at least now I can almost laugh about it. Almost.


    p.s. I got some better ones than that! All as bad or worse! LOL!!!

    • That sounds like a pretty traumatic event your horse had to go throug during his race, pretty fortunate he didn’t get hurt in that incident. I’m sure that’s taken it’s taken some psychological toll on him.
      I wish you better luck with his upcoming race, to the winners circle, or at least a good run! (:

      • PEM said

        Yeah he’s in tomorrow at Calder–debating making the long trip–and I’m beat since I just got back from Gainesville/UF game about half an hour ago–anyway he’ll be a price for sure!


  6. PEM said

    20-1 and got put up for 2nd after a DQ! Man the stewards never see it my way I must be paying the preacher right LOL!!


  7. PEM said

    Nah my buddy called 6:30 and bailed-didn’t want to drive 4+ hrs each way by myself–anyway the jerk called me from the track his wife nagged him until he went!!

    Saw it on HRTV and took home almost $950 when I cashed Monday so it was OK!


    • Alright, good for you (on the money, not the bailing)!
      My horse should be making his start just before or after the Christmas break I was told. So hopefully I’ll be able to go see him run at Belmont.

      • PEM said

        Yeah I’d make it to NY for a start at Belmont! Hell I’ve made it to Monmouth-even Meadowlands to see a horse! Give my right arm to make it to Big Sandy!


      • I love Belmont and Monmouth, but I’ve never been to Meadowlands yet. I really hope they have the Breeders’ Cup at Belmont in 2012, that would be great!

  8. PEM said

    Anywhere but California man!


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