10/31/2003 12:00AM

Frankel a victim of his own success

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PHOENIX - They're lining up to take swings at the Bobby Frankel pi-ata. The man who has dominated the upper echelon of racing again found the going tough in the Breeders' Cup.

But before you denigrate Frankel for his Breeders' Cup Day performance, you may want to take a closer look at the reason for it: Frankel's tremendous success during the rest of the year may be why he did poorly on Breeders' Cup Day.

Frankel, who is still on pace to break D. Wayne Lukas's record for earnings in a year, and who already broke Lukas's 1987 record for North American Grade 1 wins in a season, doesn't suddenly forget how to train just because it's the Breeders' Cup. There's a much more reasonable explanation.

Take a look at this year's BC winners. The nine (including two in the Turf) went into the day having made an average of 4.2 starts for the year. Richard Mandella's four winners had made a total of 10 starts among them for the entire year.

Frankel's horses, meanwhile, have been going hot and heavy from day one, picking off graded stakes throughout the season. An exception was Midas Eyes, who in the Sprint was making his first start after a long layoff.

Frankel's eight BC entrants had run in 26 Grade 1 races. The best performer, Medaglia d'Oro, was among the freshest, with just four starts. He was coming off a nine-week hiatus, however.

The way BC winners are trained has evolved. What worked best this time were lightly raced horses who were ready to move forward. Each winner (excluding the juvenile winners) had a significant break during the year, and most had at least one prep coming into the BC. If Medaglia d'Oro had received a tightener in, say, the Goodwood, maybe he would have found the necessary oomph in the last furlong of the Classic to repel Pleasantly Perfect.

Adoration was off from Jan. 19 to Sept. 4. She ran twice before her BC Distaff win. Sightseek, meanwhile, raced steadily from January. She had a couple shorter breaks but may still have been feeling the effect of a long year.

Six Perfections had a significant break in the spring. She came back in August with two big races before invading the U.S. to win the Mile. The Frankel-trained Peace Rules hadn't run since the Aug. 23 Travers and before that race had been going hard since spring. He got a bit of a break after the Preakness, but then had two very hard races in August. His needle was obviously down toward "E."

Cajun Beat won the Sprint, moving forward off a strong win in the Kentucky Cup Sprint on Sept. 13. That was his first race since July, so he had his break. The Frankel-trained Aldebaran had been going hard since March.

Islington had a very light campaign, which was by design, according to trainer, Michael Stoute. That left her fit and ready to win the Filly and Mare Turf. Frankel's trio of Heat Haze (who had been running regularly since April), Megahertz (maybe too fresh, having not run since July 26), and Tates Creek (lightly raced but coming off a very tough return race) were no real factors.

In the Turf, High Chaparral and Johar had run just three times each all year. They were fresh, but both were obviously plenty fit after having raced in the month prior to the BC. Finally, in the Classic, Pleasantly Perfect had run so-so in the Santa Anita Handicap in March and was off for seven months. He returned to win the Grade 2 Goodwood, which set him up perfectly for a career-best run in the BC Classic.

Medaglia d'Oro was lightly raced, but maybe the layoff from August, when he chased Candy Ride in the Pacific Classic, was too much to overcome.

It seems obvious that those who had success approached the Breeders' Cup almost as a second season. Frankel's goals are for the entire year, and thus by the time the BC rolls around, it's conceivable he has fired his best shots. And at this level of competition you don't have much margin for error.

It's also worth noting that Frankel's only BC winners (he's 2 for 57) fit the model of this year's winners. Squirtle Squirt won the 2001 Sprint at Belmont after running just five times all year. He got a midsummer vacation and had two races in late summer to get him fit for his Sprint. Frankel won the 2002 Filly and Mare Turf with Starine at Arlington. She had run just three times all year, but with a solid prep in the month preceding her BC try.

Needless to say, Frankel is no dummy. He can figure this out, and he has seen what has worked and what hasn't worked. That doesn't mean, however, that he will change dramatically. After all, would you give up all those spring and summer wins? It's not so much a case of whether Frankel can change, but whether he wants to.