Updated on 09/15/2011 2:17PM

It's only a win away: Frankel resume needs Cup validation

Email
Michael J. Marten
Dreaming the perhaps-not-impossible dream: Bobby Frankel at Belmont on Friday in front of the Breeders' Cup statue.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The number is laughable. Mind-numbingly laughable. Truth must be stranger than fiction because how else could you explain that a Hall of Famer like Bobby Frankel is the worst trainer in Breeders' Cup history?

Not worst in purse earnings, mind you. His horses have earned $3,479,000, placing him 11th among trainers. But Frankel has run 36 horses in the Breeders' Cup, and not one of them has won. Only three trainers have run more horses in the Breeders' Cup than Frankel, and all of them have won at least five races. No one has a worse won-loss record.

This year, Frankel's long nightmare figures to end. He is scheduled to run six horses in next Saturday's 18th World Thoroughbred Championships Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park. All of his horses will be among the top choices, and three - Aptitude in the $4 million Classic, Flute in the $2 million Distaff, and You in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies - are favorites on the early line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. His other runners are Squirtle Squirt in the $1 million Sprint, Starine in the $1 million Filly and Mare Turf, and Timboroa in the $2 million Turf. Every one of them could capture an Eclipse Award with a victory.

"Flute will set the tone," Frankel said of his 3-year-old filly, who runs in the day's first Breeders' Cup race. "If she wins, who knows what I could do, and I plan on her winning. If everything goes really good, I could win five.

"If I don't win this year, I might as well quit."

Frankel was born in New York, is based in California, and has raced on both coasts this year, winning 13 Grade 1 races. He is a two-time Eclipse Award winner, and could be headed for a third championship this year, because no trainer has been hotter since July 1. Yet Frankel's resume is missing victories in both the Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown races. His position is not unfamiliar to others in the sport who have had to leap that one final hurdle to erase whatever doubts remained about their ability.

"First we couldn't win on grass," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the 66-year-old Hall of Famer. "Then we won the Arlington Million with Steinlen. Next we could only win with fillies, then we won two Horse of the Year titles with colts.

"There are certain landmark races you want to win. And even though Bobby's in the Hall of Fame, you know he'd like to win a Breeders' Cup race. It would be criminal to have the career he's had and not win the Breeders' Cup. I'll be really, really pulling for him - in races where he doesn't have a horse in against me."

Jockeys Laffit Pincay Jr. and Alex Solis can also empathize with Frankel. Pincay lost the Kentucky Derby 10 times before winning in 1984 with Swale.

"It meant the whole world to me. It was a dream come true - and a relief," said Pincay, 54, another Hall of Famer and the winningest rider of all time. "I thought it was my last good chance to win a Derby. I thought, 'If I blow this one, that's it.' Finally when you win, you say, 'Well, I don't have to worry about that.' I'm sure Bobby wants to win, but even if he never wins, that shouldn't take away from what he's done. He's one of the greatest."

Solis, 37, had a Breeders' Cup record that was nearly as inglorious as Frankel's. Solis was 0 for 31 in the Breeders' Cup before he won last year's Sprint with Kona Gold.

"It was a great relief," Solis said. "It was hard for me to see what was in the media, because some of what was written about me focused on the negative, and I'm such a positive person. You get aggravated, but you can't turn your back. You have to keep things in perspective. I mean, I'm sure people in Afghanistan aren't worrying about stuff like this."

Lukas, Pincay, and Solis all believe that Frankel's Breeders' Cup record is a statistical fluke, a result of bad luck, not an inability to train the winner of a big race.

"To win these races, you have to have really, really good horses, a good trip, and a lot of luck," Solis said. "I hope Bobby can get it done. I admire him as a person and a trainer."

Frankel, who turned 60 in July, has tried to keep his Breeders' Cup record in perspective.

"It doesn't bother me, but I'd really like to win one," he said. "You want to accomplish everything you can, and I haven't accomplished that yet. But I do wish the season was over. I've had a great year. I'd like not to have to perform one more time."

Frankel has finished second in five Breeders' Cup races, including last year's Sprint with Honest Lady, but he never felt sorry for himself last year. His attention was focused on the fatal injury suffered by Spanish Fern, who fractured her pelvis at the start of the Filly and Mare Turf.

Although Frankel is notorious for blowing up at his help, or whoever is within earshot, when his instructions are not followed, those episodes, though still volatile, occur with far less frequency these days. His mood often reflects how his horses are training. Frankel has been remarkably calm entering this year's races, joking with reporters, and professing confidence in his horses after a particularly impressive gallop or workout.

"He seems more at peace with himself," Lukas observed.

A win by any of his horses would be special, but two stand out for Frankel. Since most of Frankel's top older runners began their careers overseas, he would be especially gratified by victories by either Aptitude or Flute, both of whom he has trained throughout their careers for his biggest client, Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms.

Aptitude has blossomed this fall into a leading contender for an Eclipse Award as champion older horse. Frankel is particularly proud of the fact that Aptitude, the 2000 Kentucky Derby runner-up, is one of the few horses from that race still competing, and the only one in this year's Breeders' Cup.

"He's doing really well. He's sounder than he's ever been," Frankel said of Aptitude, whose crooked right front leg is noticeable even to those without a trained eye. "He had puffy ankles when he was young, but right now they're tight and cold."

Flute, however, is Frankel's favorite. He adores the filly, who immediately comes to the front of her stall when she hears his voice, and rests her head on his shoulder.

To see Frankel around Flute is to see a side of him most people will never know.

"How you doing? You're my girl," he said, softly stroking her head. Then he turned to a visitor and said, "She was here before, and not as a horse."

"I'd be disappointed if she got beat. In my heart, if I want to win one race, it's with her," Frankel said. "And not because she's my best chance, but because I like her. She runs hard every time. It's not a money thing.

"If she wins, I'm not going to go nuts. But I'll be real happy, and I'll be a little relieved. And then I'll worry about the rest of the day."