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Dutrow, Frankel team up with filly
ARCADIA, Calif. - Bobby Frankel says that one of the first times he met Richard Dutrow Jr., Dutrow "asked if I'd let him bet $200 on a football team."
"The team lost," Frankel recalled Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. "And he never paid me back."
Frankel was smiling as he said this because, perhaps as a result of this winter at Santa Anita, they'll now have to call it even.
Since that inauspicious beginning, the two horse trainers have become great friends. Though they live on different coasts - some might say different planets - they have taken care of each other's horses over the years. Before Frankel would spend half the year in New York, he would often leave horses there with Dutrow, and when Dutrow sends horses to California, they go to Frankel's barn.
That relationship has reached a new level of cooperation in recent months with the champion filly Stardom Bound. On Wednesday, she was entered in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, in which she drew the rail in a field of 10 going 1 1/16 miles. Should she get her fifth straight victory in that race, she would be in line to take on males in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4 and then, perhaps, the Kentucky Derby on May 2.
After Stardom Bound won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall for trainer Christopher Paasch, she was sold at auction for $5.7 million to IEAH Stables, with Dutrow lined up to train. But because Stardom Bound had spent her whole career to that point in California and exclusively on synthetic surfaces, Dutrow suggested, and IEAH co-president Michael Iavarone agreed, that Stardom Bound should spend the winter in California. Enter Frankel.
"It was Rick's original idea," Iavarone said from his office in Garden City, N.Y. "He has such a good working relationship with Frankel that if that's what he wanted to do, I was fine with it."
IEAH already had a relationship with Frankel, too, dating from the previous year with Ariege, who won the 2008 Santa Anita Oaks.
"It was a no-brainer," Dutrow said from Florida, where he spends the winter. "She won the Breeders' Cup there. It did not make sense to buy her and then bring her to the East Coast and put her in a new situation. It was all about keeping the filly on a track she loves. It was more important for the filly to be there on a track she loves, and runs huge on, than for me to have her here. It's best for her to race and train over a track she likes until it's time to go to the Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby."
The relationship between the two trainers is reminiscent of how Lefty Nickerson and Ron McAnally used to share the care of John Henry, depending on what coast he was based, 30 years ago. But Nickerson and McAnally were contemporaries. Frankel is two decades older than Dutrow, and thus their relationship has a different dynamic. Dutrow, who has won the Kentucky Derby, worships Frankel, a Hall of Famer.
"I think he's the best horseman I've ever met," Dutrow said. "I met Charlie Whittingham, and I met Laz Barrera, but I wasn't in the same zone I am now. I like the way he does things. I'm always looking to learn more about the game. When his horses are in my stable, I like to see what he does, learn off him. Day-to-day things. When situations come up, I like to run them by Bobby. I'm always trying to pick things up from him. It started out with me approaching him to learn about the game. It didn't start out as a friendship."
Frankel has been entwined with Dutrow's family for years. Dutrow's older brother, Tony - now a successful trainer himself - once worked for Frankel. And Frankel was friendly with Dutrow's father, Richard Sr.
Frankel has great respect for Dutrow's horsemanship.
"He's excellent," Frankel said. "He's very conscientious about his horses. He takes good care of his horses, and he's got great help. He does everything right."
Frankel has called the shots with Stardom Bound this winter.
"I just tell him what I've done," Frankel said.
Dutrow said: "Bobby can handle everything. He keeps me involved with the horse, calls when she breezes. It's not like I call him and set a schedule."
After this winter, though, Stardom Bound will move to Dutrow's care.
"She does go back to him," Frankel said.
But much remains to be done over the next two months. Stardom Bound will be a heavy favorite in Saturday's Oaks. Iavarone said if she turns in another powerful performance, the Santa Anita Derby is a tempting option.
"It is as long as she proves she belongs there," Iavarone said. "We're not going to put her in a spot where we believe she can't win. The biggest advantage is knowing she likes the track there. That's why we kept her out there in the first place."
In other Derby developments:
* A field of nine was entered Wednesday for the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Saturday at Aqueduct. The field, headed by multiple stakes winner Haynesfield, also includes the highly regarded Imperial Council, who is making his stakes debut, along with the unbeaten Mr. Fantasy and California invader I Want Revenge.
* James Graham has picked up the mount on Giant Oak for the Grade 2, $600,000 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 14, trainer Chris Block said Wednesday. Giant Oak finished fifth, under Edgar Prado, following a brutally tough trip in the Risen Star Stakes last month. Prado on March 14 is riding Hello Broadway in the Grade 3, $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby for trainer Barclay Tagg.
Quality Road, who scored an impressive win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, is the most prominent of four newcomers to this week's Derby Watch top 20. He is the co-third choice, at 10-1, on the Kentucky Derby future line of Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. Also new to the list are Fountain of Youth runner-up Theregoesjojo (30-1) and Imperial Council (40-1), who runs in the Gotham Stakes on Saturday. General Quarters, the Sam Davis winner, is back on the list at 50-1 after getting bumped last week. The Pamplemousse, 20-1 last week, had his price cut to 10-1 following his runaway win in the Sham Stakes.
Four horses - Capt. Candyman Can, Midshipman, Notonthesamepage, and This Ones for Phil - were dropped, either because of poor performances or, in the case of Midshipman, injury. Beethoven, 20-1 last week, is now 30-1 on Watchmaker's line following his third-place finish in the Fountain of Youth.
ON THE BUBBLE
Mr. Fantasy could propel himself onto the list with a strong performance in the Gotham, which also includes former top 20 resident Haynesfield. Also knocking on the door is Take the Points, who was second in the Sham.
- Jay Privman