07/01/2001 11:00PM

Lightning can strike twice

Email

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - While the rest of the world arose Sunday as if it were just another summer's morn, Bobby Frankel - the man with horses running everywhere - woke up with a rainbow on his shoulder. Calling him lucky hardly does the term justice. He was blessed. He was anointed. He was nothing less than imbued with the power to change history.

But he didn't even know it until 2:30 that afternoon.

To that point, he was looking at a hard-knocking day. The Eastern returns had not been kind. Lido Palace had finished second in the Suburban Handicap to Albert the Great, and then Senure did the same thing in the United Nations, losing a tough one to With Anticipation. Grim-faced, all Frankel could do was tighten the girths on Aptitude and Skimming for the Hollywood Gold Cup and go sit down, hoping one of them could salvage the day.

Then it happened. Somebody flipped the switch and a whole load of good karma came tumbling down. First, Frankel was handed the United Nations first prize upon the disqualification of With Anticipation. Then, a few minutes later, he went from a two-three disappointment to a one-two sweep in the Gold Cup when victorious Futural was taken down and placed third.

Wham-bam, thank you stewards!

You could have sublet the grin on Frankel's face. Powered a village off the light in his eyes. He knows, like everyone else in racing, that disqualifications are a part of the game. But they do not happen to the same guy on the same day in two of the biggest races of the summer season. Until now.

"In some ways, it's more of a rush than just winning a race, because of the way the emotions go up and down and back up again," Frankel said later, after Aptitude had been crowned the official winner of the Gold Cup. "The feeling is unbelievable."

For trainer Craig Dollase and the owners of Futural, Jess Miller and Jack Weitz, the emotions were strictly down. Their tough little chestnut had just run the race of his life to win the 10-furlong Gold Cup by 1 1/2 lengths from Aptitude, leaving both Skimming and Captain Steve in his dust. But instead of high fives and hugs all around, it was a grim Dollase who stood out on the track, sweating in his best dark pinstriped suit and watching the big-screen replay of the offending incident in the stretch.

"They'll take him down," predicted Dollase, shaking his head as the screen showed Futural putting the squeeze on Skimming and Captain Steve from the outside. "What a way to lose when you've got the best horse."

Dollase and Futural find themselves in good company. Dr. Fager was disqualified after winning the 1967 Jersey Derby by 6 1/2 lengths because he racked up the field soon after the start. Cougar won the 1971 Woodward Stakes in a waltz but had to give it back because he veered into a well-beaten West Coast Scout. And Secretariat, no less, was taken down after winning the 1972 Champagne Stakes by two lengths for bumping Stop the Music.

Now here was the "best horse" in the 2001 Gold Cup, circling beside his trainer, his coat flecked with wet sand, his blue saddle towel drenched with sweat, and his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth, as if to razz anyone who would dare suggest the day did not belong to him.

It did, but only for those few thrilling moments between the end of the race and the announcement that the stewards were going to look hard at the stretch run. They concluded that Futural and Chris McCarron leaned into Skimming sharply enough that Garrett Gomez had no choice but to rein hard and stand in the irons, costing him any chance for a shot at second place. He finished three lengths behind Aptitude.

McCarron saw it differently. He felt the contact was minor, that Skimming was a beaten horse, and that Gomez over-reacted. He also noted that even if Skimming had been deprived of a chance at second-place - which was debatable - the point was moot, since Aptitude and Skimming were both bred and owned by Juddmonte Farm and trained by Frankel.

"That's not really a factor when judging an interference call," said Tom Ward, one of the three presiding stewards. "There might have been the same owner and trainer involved, but there were different jockeys on the two entrymates, and they have to be considered."

McCarron, still on a low boil, tried hard to be impressed by their fairness.

"In one way I agree," he said. "I think Gomez should be very well paid for his impressive job of acting."

In a sense, McCarron way paying the price of his own high standards.

"It was a little surprising," Ward noted, "because no one holds a straighter line than Chris."

This was of small consolation to Dollase. Suddenly, he was feeling a very old 30. Half an hour after the Gold Cup, still in a daze, he found himself saying things like, "At least we know we have the kind of horse who can run in these quality of races," with all the conviction of a man reading the phone book. The presence of his daughter Audrey, age two months, provided some comfort.

"Was that her I heard crying?" Dollase asked his wife, Nancy, as he admired his sleeping girl.

"No," she replied. "That was me."