12/08/2011 3:25PM

Hovdey: Weemissfrankie carries celebrity status

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Weemissfrankie is the first Grade 1 winner for trainer Peter Eurton.

It’s a game most trainers only get to play in their fantasies, looking at the national schedule of lucrative races and imagining where the horse of their dreams might fit. Only now Peter Eurton gets to play it for real.

Weemissfrankie, a 2-year-old filly named for a highly emotional sentiment, is in the process of taking Eurton and her owners on a wild and wonderful ride. After winning the Del Mar Debutante and the Oak Leaf Stakes out West, she finished a distant though hard-fought third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs.

On Saturday, Weemissfrankie will try to make it a clean sweep of California’s major races for the division when she faces a small band of relatively fresh opponents in the $402,000 Starlet Stakes at Hollywood Park. She will get a break after that, after which Eurton will commence the enviable task of shopping through the bounty of stakes opportunities available to 3-year-olds of quality.

Eurton’s success has been of the steady, reliable sort, making the most of the chances he has been given. His father owned a successful plastics business, and his stepfather was Steve Ippolito, a Thoroughbred trainer known coast to coast. Eurton tried plastics, but his heart wasn’t in it. Instead he gravitated to the racetrack and for a time he was intent on becoming a jockey. He even rode for his stepfather.

“Steve was tough,” Eurton said. “I won a race for him once at Pomona. It was close, and the first thing he said was how could I almost get beat when he put me on a 2-5 shot?”

It wasn’t long before Eurton figured training was the way to go. Now, at 54, he has forfeited his nationally “unsung” status as a stalwart in the California training community with the exploits of Weemissfrankie, his first Grade 1 winner. A daughter of the late Saint Ballado stallion Sunriver, Weemissfrankie gave Eurton his first taste of Breeders’ Cup competition as well, another case of fantasy becoming reality.

“Even the goat was a celebrity back there,” Eurton said at his barn Thursday, referring to Pickles, a white model with brown spots who was just then at his usual post outside the stall of Weemissfrankie.

“When we were unloading her at Churchill, she was balking at making the transition to the ramp out of the van,” Eurton said. “So the goat led her out.”

As far as Weemissfrankie’s performance in the Juvenile Fillies, Eurton was as concerned as the next trainer over the gummy condition of the Churchill Downs suface on race day.

“The outside especially, where she was drawn,” Eurton said. “With the rain I was hoping it would be tighter. Instead, it got pretty deep. Then she was bumped on the first turn by the winner, which put her in an even deeper part of the track. Halfway down the backside I was just hoping she’d fire.”

She did, but there was just too much left for Weemissfrankie to do in the face of My Miss Aurelia’s powerhouse performance. Eurton’s filly was beaten six lengths by runner-up Grace Hall and nine by the winner.

“I think she basically kind of gutted it out,” Eurton said. “Had she not gone into the race with so much confidence from her three wins I think she would have just packed it in.”

To that point, Weemissfrankie was convinced the winner’s circle was a natural extension of the race. Eurton is a firm believer in the aspect of Thoroughbred psychology dealing with the effects of being badly and repeatedly beaten.

“You can teach horses how to get beat,” Eurton noted. “If I have a horse who gets beat bad, or doesn’t run his race, very seldom do I fire back with them soon. I want them to forget about it, and I want to be sure they do.”

Weemissfrankie got a 10-day decompression from her Kentucky trip before Eurton sized her up and decided the Starlet, at an interval of five weeks, was a viable goal.

“The way she’s been acting, and eating, I see no reason she won’t be at her best,” Eurton said. “And even thought she’s never run here before, she trains here all the time and obviously does very well.”

Hooked to the back wall and still snug in her striped wool rug, Weemissfrankie pinned her ears and shifted her stylish hindquarters around in search of possible targets. She is an athletic filly, with long, well-hinged legs that gives her, in Eurton’s view, a fast, energetic gallop that keeps her at a peak of fitness between works.

On Saturday, fans will note that Weemissfrankie is sporting a late-season hairstyle, called a trace clip, that leaves a patch of fuzzy, cold-weather coat across her chestnut back and barrel. That should have nothing to with the fact that she will be favored to defeat the likes of Charm the Maker and Killer Graces, one-two finishers in the Sharp Cat Stakes earlier in the meet, as well as Del Mar Debutante runner-up Self Preservation, who was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Weemissfrankie continues to carry forward the story of her namesake, the popular horse owner and show business figure Frank Alesia, whose death last February at age 65 preceeded by less than two months the purchase of the filly at auction, for $175,000. Aleisa’s widow, Sharon, is partners in Weemissfrankie along with Mike Mellon’s Bran Jan Stable and skateboard industry entrepreneurs Joe Ciaglia and Rob Dyrdek, who is also an MTV reality show star.

“I’m not on Twitter or Facebook,” Eurton confessed. “But I understand the filly has become pretty well known out there because of Rob.”

Sure enough, there’s a picture of Weemissfrankie winning the Del Mar Debutante near the top of the Dyrdek website, along with links to Street League Skateboarding, Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, and the Rob Dyrdek Foundation.

“Anything that brings the game attention like that is a good thing,” Eurton said. “We don’t know where it will go from here, but it’s fun to think about.”