01/28/2003 1:00AM

Frankel and Co. take a bow


The Eclipse Award trophy for outstanding trainer of 2002 has room for only one name, but the stage was crowded Monday night at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Acknowledging longtime assistants Humberto Ascanio and Ruben Loza and exercise rider Jose Cuevas, Bobby Frankel was awarded his third consecutive Eclipse, and fourth overall, for a season during which his horses won 117 races and $17,748,340. Frankel, 61, said he could not have done it without his loyal staff and invited them onstage when he accepted his trophy.

"They make my life easier - I can sleep at night," Frankel said. It has been that way for a while. Ascanio began working for Frankel in 1973, Loza started in 1977. Cuevas, described by Frankel as the "gallop boy for the stars," began exercising Frankel's horses in 1999.

Supported by owners that included Prince Khaled Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, Edmund Gann, and John Amerman, Frankel had 14 Grade 1 wins from 480 starters in 2002. Frankel's stable was so deep it hardly missed the departure of the brilliant dirt horse Mizzen Mast, who started only once. Mizzen Mast was injured and later retired, and his void was quickly filled when Frankel won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap with Frank Stronach's Milwaukee Brew. When Milwaukee Brew tailed off, Amerman's Lido Palace picked up the tempo, winning the Grade 1 Woodward in September and the Grade 2 Clark in November.

Frankel's strength spread across all divisions. In the 3-year-old filly division, the Gann-owned You led the charge with four Grade 1's - the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks at Santa Anita; the Acorn at Belmont; and the Test at Saratoga. Gann's Medaglia d'Oro leaped to prominence in March and by the end of the year was perhaps the country's best 3-year-old colt. Though he did not produce a win for Frankel in a Triple Crown race, Medaglia d'Oro won the Grade 1 Travers, finished second in the Belmont and Breeders' Cup Classic, and won 4 of 9 while earning more than $2.2 million.

Turf runners have always been a Frankel specialty, and they were again. Beat Hollow, owned by Juddmonte (outstanding breeder of 2002) started the year in a three-other-than. By the end of the season, he had won three Grade 1's, including the Arlington Million, and earned more than $1.4 million by winning 4 of 8. Denon, owned by Gann and Flaxman Holdings, won two Grade 1 turf races - the Whittingham in California and the Turf Classic at Belmont. Chiselling took the Grade 1 Secretariat for 3-year-olds on grass.

After winning his first Breeders' Cup race in 2001 with Squirtle Squirt, Frankel returned for a one-two finish in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Starine, a mare Frankel owned, beat Banks Hill, owned by Juddmonte.

Frankel flirted with the seasonal earnings record of $17,842,358 held by D. Wayne Lukas, but fell $94,018 short. The record gives Frankel and his team another goal to aim for in 2003.