10/20/2010 11:59AM

Frankel the latest among honorable names


You would think matters regarding the best 2-year-old in Great Britain would have been settled cleanly last weekend in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket when the Royal Lodge winner, Frankel, easily defeated the Middle Park winner, Dream Ahead. Like the man says, “Scoreboard, baby!” Frankel is unbeaten. Dream Ahead, obviously, is not, having lost to Frankel, among others, last Saturday afternoon in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.

Still, there seems to be some question in the mind of one Matthew Tester, identified as the British Horseracing Authority’s specialist on 2-year-olds, who evaluated Dream Ahead so highly after the Middle Park and forgave him so completely after the Dewhurst that he still is rated a better horse than Frankel. And these people are being allowed to stage the Summer Olympics. Sheesh.

But I digress. The point is, a colt named Frankel rising to the top of England’s ranks this season is the stuff of solid-gold racetrack romance. Non-racegoers will rightfully wonder why a British Thoroughbred owned by a Saudi Arabian prince was named for the breakout star of the “Real Housewives of New York” (television audiences in Riyadh are known to favor the Orange County version). But the colt, as everyone in the game knows, is named not for Bethenny, but for her dad.

Bobby Frankel died on Nov. 16, 2009, after a long battle with the ravages of cancer. The last major winner to represent the house-bound Frankel was Juddmonte Farm’s Champs Elysees, who won the Canadian International championship at Woodbine a month before his trainer’s death.

Khalid Abdullah, whose Juddmonte Farm was Frankel’s primary client through the best years of his Hall of Fame career, directed his people to pick the best possible 2-year-old to carry on the name of his late American trainer. What they did in settling upon this son of Galileo, out of the Danehill mare Kind, would be defined as a job well done. Frankel, the colt, was something special from the start, at least according to testimony from Henry Cecil, who has called him the most promising young horse he has ever trained. But what would he know. He’s only won two dozen English classics.

In being named for a treasured individual in the orbit of the owner, Frankel is keeping good company:

Alydar, as in Affirmed-and-Alydar, was named for His Royal Highness the Aly Khan, leader of the Ismaili Muslims, third husband of Rita Hayworth, and friend of owner Lucille Markey, who called him “Aly darling.”

Vigors, the dramatic hero of the 1978 Santa Anita Handicap, was named for the Irish sportsman, war hero and founder of Coolmore Stud, Tim Vigors, a friend of owner William R. Hawn.

J.O. Tobin, the conqueror of Seattle Slew and a sprint champion, was named for a scion of the noted San Francisco Tobins, and a friend of owner George Pope Jr.

Bertrando, a handicap champion, was named by breeder Eddie Nahem for Bertrand Hug, his friend and the proprietor of an upscale Rancho Santa Fe restaurant (as opposed to all those downscale Rancho Santa Fe restaurants).

Roy Chapman went out on a real limb and named a son of Elusive Quality after his mother-in-law, Millie McNair, whose childhood nickname was Smarty Jones. But that worked out all right.

And then there was Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, who was named by owners Ann and Jerry Moss for the son of a guy with whom Moss’s record company did a lot of business. A guy who goes by the name of Sting.

There are many others, to be sure, including the two most recent Horses of the Year, both bought by Jess Jackson after their names were getting around: Curlin, named for an African-American slave, honored the great-grandfather of one of his original owners, Shirley Cunningham, while Rachel Alexandra was named for the granddaughter of her breeder, Dolphus Morrison.

The greatest homage of all, though, in terms of the most satisfying confluence of namesake and equine achievement, still belongs to Dr. Fager – as long as we can agree that saving a fellow’s life is worth at least something more than a simple thank-you note.

Dr. Charles A. Fager of Boston was the neurosurgeon who performed the emergency procedure on John Nerud after the trainer fell from his pony one morning at Belmont Park and suffered a subdural hematoma.

“If we hadn’t gotten to John at that point, he would not have made it through the night without slipping into a coma,” Dr. Fager said in a 2005 interview.

Nerud, who turns 97 in February, did make it through the night, and recovered to express his gratitude by naming a yearling son of Rough n’ Tumble after the neurosurgeon. Dr. Fager, the horse, went on to a Hall of Fame career of 18 wins in 22 starts, capped by an 8-for-8 Horse of the Year campaign in 1968 that still stands as arguably the best single season ever unleashed by an American Thoroughbred.

Through it all, the two-legged Dr. Fager was reticent.

“In those days, in the medical profession, you just didn’t advertise,” Fager said. “Once the horse gained a measure of fame, I had many offers to come see him race, but I turned them down. I tried to keep it as quiet as I could.”

I know how he feels. The quiet part, anyway. No matter what the good intentions of dear friends and proud relations, they can’t all turn out to be Dr. Fagers.

Charlie Whittingham, who knew a good horse when he saw one and even once trained a stakes winner named, of all things, Whittingham, once named a homebred son of Greinton after a guy he knew who wrote the occasional horse story. The horse was subsequently gelded, broke its maiden for a tag, and ended up running somewhere in Nebraska. His name was Hovdey, and Hovdey was no Frankel.