11/20/2009 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Frankel applied his special touch at all levels

After an introduction in the paddock at Saratoga many years ago, Bobby Frankel became more than just one of our trainers. We clicked almost immediately and enjoyed a lasting friendship that I will cherish forever.

Bobby was a complex man who many people did not fully understand. He could be both gruff and genuinely charming depending upon the situation. Although he trained two Grade 1 winners for us, Precious Kitten and Nothing to Lose, the race I remember most, and I believe captures the essence of the man, was a $35,000 claiming race at Saratoga. Bobby was training Ten Cents a Shine, our former Kentucky Derby starter, who I thought could win an allowance race. Bobby knew I was sentimental about the horse and didn't want to lose him in a claiming race. He called and said, "Let me run him for $35,000, and I'll guarantee he will win, you'll cash a bet, and nobody will claim him." I didn't say "no" to a man of whom I was in awe from the first day he started training for us. He focused on that horse like he was a champion. At the barn the morning of the race he assured me that he had handicapped the race and said, "They won't beat him."

When I led him into the winner's circle, Bobby came running up grinning from ear to ear and shouting, "Nobody claimed him, nobody claimed him!"

To me, that was our most memorable and enjoyable win together. Bobby had a plan and he executed it to perfection. It wasn't about money or prestige - it was about the sheer joy of winning and proving that his predication "that no one would claim his horse" was correct.

He made such a lasting impression on me that I will always remember my friend, Bobby Frankel.

Kenneth L. Ramsey - Nicholasville, Ky.

Trainer had rapport with several breeds

One of my favorite memories of horse racing was a morning spent at Saratoga with Bobby and his dog Happy. Yep, with all the horses I had and all the great trainers I had contact with, that was one magical morning.

Bobby will be missed by all: horse lovers, dog lovers, and lovers of great trainers.

I have been in the business since 1996, had 15 trainers and 25 horses, won graded stakes and claimers.

But that one sunny August morning at Saratoga is etched in my mind. My wife and two friends spent four hours with Bobby, and it was priceless.

He was great at what he did, and he was damn proud of it. And as a gambler, well, I had to use him in every race he had a horse, cause you never knew when the magic would appear.

Michael Rose - Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Extraordinary year merits vote change

After spending more than a quarter-century on the business side of the horse racing industry (including 20 years as CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club), I feel compelled for the first time in my life to write about the sport of horse racing, specifically the debate about who should be the 2009 Horse of the Year.

I was lucky enough to see Rachel Alexandra take the middle jewel of the Triple Crown as well as Zenyatta's breathtaking victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The crowds at each track saluted both victories with passionate roars that can only be summoned when fans know that they have witnessed a truly historic performance.

But who should be Horse of the Year?

Most American sports crown their champions by virtue of a "knockout" competition where the winner of the "championship game" is the champion. The Super Bowl is the quintessential example of this selection methodology. This methodology requires the selection of Zenyatta as Horse of the Year. She soundly defeated the best field of horses assembled in North America this year in the Breeders' Cup Classic - the closest thing racing has to a Super Bowl.

The world's most popular sport, soccer, typically crowns its champions in a very different way, however. Leagues around the world each crown as champion the team that achieves the best body of work over the entire season. Applying this methodology requires the selection of Rachel Alexandra as Horse of the Year. She simply had the best campaign for a 3-year old filly in American racing history.

Historically, the "body of work over the entire season" standard has generally determined the Horse of the Year, but as the Breeders' Cup has grown in stature and importance over the years, a horse's performance on Breeders' Cup day has become more and more important in shaping voters' decisions.

I can never recall a year, however, even remotely like this one, where two horses never faced each other but went undefeated, and each achieved historic victories over the opposite (and supposedly stronger) sex in critically important championship races. The only just outcome is for Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta to share the Horse of the Year title. Any other result would be completely arbitrary, an enormous injustice to the loser, and certainly not in the best interests of racing.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association must immediately change the voting procedures so that voters can split their Horse of the Year ballots between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. If a plurality of voters do so, then the title of 2009 Horse of the Year should be shared.

One final thought: Who would win if these two great champions actually faced each other on the racetrack? At least for this horseplayer, the answer is still split. On a neutral site and surface, I'd bet the farm on Rachel Alexandra at any distance up to and including 1 1/8 miles, and on Zenyatta at any distance of 1 1/4 miles or longer. It's "pick 'em" at 1 3/16 miles, and I sure would love to see that battle!

Joe De Francis - Baltimore

Ex-Gulfstream chief enhanced the sport

South Florida racing has taken another big hit. The loss of Bill Murphy at Gulfstream Park ("Murphy, Gulf president, resigns," Nov. 2) was devastating to all horsemen who race there.

Murphy is an adamant professional when it comes to all groups working together, whether it is the owners, trainers like myself, jockeys, employees, management, or gamblers. We all had a voice and a chance to change things for the better.

Nothing was more evident than in the last racing season where all around the country numbers were down, yet Gulfstream excelled as a cooperative effort from all parties ("Defying trends, business is up at Gulfstream," April 5). Horsemen were treated as equals, with all of us working together for the betterment of racing. The horsemen received time at every one of our Wednesday-morning meetings to give our input on all kinds of business.

I truly understand the investment Gulfstream Park has and its commitment to racing, but all of the owners who invest in those beautiful horses, who struggle enough to pay the bills also deserve a say, and under Bill Murphy they had one. He also never lost the respect of the player - those people who come out and enjoy gambling on our game and create all the purses through the season. He treated all of them with respect. I have personally seen him going around to many of them asking what he could do for them. He never left any group out. He knew that we all needed to support each other to make a successful meet. At any track, cooperation between horsemen and management provides a better chance of survival, and I believe that's what we had at Gulfstream Park the last few years.

I understand that Bill Murphy's job as president of a corporation was to produce profits for the company, but I think as a human being one must consider all the human aspects of one's decisions. I personally think that Bill did that. He never lost sight that there were families attached to every decision he made, whether it be in regard to a horseman, jockey, employee, or gambler. That seems to be something that is missing from corporate America today.

Bill Murphy will be missed. It was a pleasure to work with him, and I hope that there will be a place for him somewhere in racing, for I believe he makes it a better sport.

Tim Ritvo - Miami