Updated on 09/17/2011 12:49PM

Franks a giant in home state


The sudden and unexpected death on Wednesday night of John Franks, the only person to win four Eclipse Awards as outstanding owner, has sent shockwaves through his home state of Louisiana. Known simply as "Mr. Franks" from Shreveport to New Orleans, his impact on the state's racing industry will probably never be matched.

Franks was the leading breeder in Louisiana eight times, and he won 18 consecutive owner titles from 1982 to 1999 at his home track of Louisiana Downs, near Shreveport. He also won multiple titles at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and was inducted into that track's Hall of Fame in 1992.

"We clearly recognize what John Franks has meant to Louisiana Downs," said Ray Tromba, the track's vice president of racing operations. "He gave us legitimacy when we needed legitimacy in the early 80's."

Franks's accomplishments on a national scale were staggering. He was North America's leading owner by wins six times, and by earnings five times. Franks was also North America's leading breeder by wins nine times.

Although he did not live to usher in the new year, Franks has already made an impact in 2004. , the last horse to run under his ownership, scored a one-length victory over Truly a Judge in the $81,000 Lafayette Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Thursday.

"It's a fitting way for Mr. Franks to go out as a winner," said Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Gold Ruckus. "From now on, his horses will run as the John Franks Estate."

Franks owned more than 500 horses at the time of his death, with about 120 racing at tracks around North America.

"He certainly had a major impact on the racing here over the years," said Brian Krantz, president and general manager of Fair Grounds. "When you look at the first few years of Champions Day, his participation with the better horses was a lot of the luster that made Champions Day a success." The showcase day for Louisiana-breds at Fair Grounds began in 1991.

Franks bred many of the top horses he raced over the years, including Answer Lively, the champion 2-year-old colt of 1998, and Grade 1 winners Kissin Kris and Halo America. He also bred and a sold several Grade 1 winners, such as Sharp Cat, Royal Anthem, and Lady Tak. But one of his favorite horses was Dave's Friend.

"Dave's Friend was his pet," said Dianne Alexander, director of racing for Franks.

A gelding, Dave's Friend was a top sprinter in the late 1970's and early 1980's who won 35 of 76 starts and earned more than $1 million. He shares a pasture with a white Thoroughbred at Franks's residence in Shreveport.

"Mr. Franks would stop and feed them peppermints when he would drive out of the farm," said Alexander. "They would hear the paper rattle and come up for a treat."

Louisiana Downs and Fair Grounds will likely both end up naming stakes for Franks. Krantz said discussions on that subject will be forthcoming, while Tromba is working up a proposal to honor Franks at Louisiana Downs. It will be submitted to the family after they have had time to grieve, he said. Franks was to be buried on Saturday.

- additional reporting by Chuck Dybdal