06/29/2008 11:00PM

Mast Track rewards Frankel


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Bobby Frankel might have been 2,500 miles away at the time, snug in his Long Island townhouse and sipping a glass of chardonnay. But his fingerprints were all over the 69th running of the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup last Saturday, won by the 4-year-old colt Mast Track in lieu of anything among the opposition that could run an opening half-mile in less than 49 seconds.

It's an easy game. At least, it is when you have a stable like Frankel's, with horses in California living where Charlie Whittingham used to train and a New York string bedded down in the barn once occupied by King Ranch. Those outfits were known for having a deep bench, featuring a horse for nearly every course and circumstance. Frankel honored that profitable tradition in spades, winning the Gold Cup with a runner that only could be described as third string.

Prior to the Gold Cup, Mast Track had yet to even hit the board in a stakes race during an uneventful career of nine starts. He beat Brother Derek in an allowance setting on a synthetic surface last April, and more recently found himself outclassed in the Shoemaker Mile on grass. But Frankel saw the seeds of a big effort starting to sprout. The Gold Cup came up at a very good time.

"Don't give me any credit for pointing him to this race," Frankel said Monday morning from his Belmont office. "It wasn't that big a plan. I didn't really think about going in there until like maybe two weeks before, when it didn't look like there was going to be a lot speed."

While Frankel's 2001 Gold Cup winner Aptitude backed into the win in the disqualification of Futural, the 2008 running will require nothing more than a brief explanatory note. Heatseeker, top-weighted, favored, and the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and the Californian, was scratched after entries because of an ankle injury.

"I don't know if I'd have beaten him," Frankel offered. "But my horse wasn't getting weak at the end. That was the amazing part."

There were protests of a slow pace aiding and abetting Mast Track's 10-1 upset, but they should fall on deaf ears. The last time anyone checked, all of the Gold Cup runners left the game at the same time. Besides, the fractions laid down by Mast Track over Hollywood's synthetic surface were eerily sublime, neither too slow nor too fast, porridge served just right.

Equipped with both blinkers and Tyler Baze for the first time, Mast Track delivered consecutive quarters in 24.41 seconds, 24.47, 24.10, 23.96, and 24.43, for a final 1 1/4-mile clocking of 2:01.37. For those of you scoring at home, that's five straight quarters of nearly identical duration, varying at most by a half-second.

Shaun Bridgmohan made no excuses for third-place Student Council, who sat right off Mast Track's tailpipe and never made a dent. Garrett Gomez, who loomed at the eighth pole with runner-up Go Between but could not close the deal, toyed with the idea of blaming the pace, then backed off and wished aloud that Mast Track had been put under more pressure.

"But he doesn't need the lead," Frankel pointed out. "When I ran him against Brother Derek, he came from off the pace.

"Now that I see how strong he was at the end of the race, I think we'll be in good shape with him," Frankel added. "I never really trained him for the race. He'd never been over a mile and a sixteenth. He had two easy halves and one nice three-quarters. He showed being as fit as he was off of that, the distance was no problem."

Frankel trained Mizzen Mast, the sire of Mast Track, who looked like a colt on a mission at the end of 2001 and into 2002, with victories in the Malibu Stakes and the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita. Unfortunately, the Strub was was his last race.

"He was a really, really good horse," Frankel said. "At that time, the sheet numbers were off the charts. The injury looked minor. He had a suspensory that was slightly filled. We brought him back and it filled up again, but it wasn't a big deal. I thought with the proper time he could have come back as good as ever, but the boss wanted to stand him at stud."

No, not Springsteen. Frankel was talking about to Khalid Abdullah, proprietor of Juddmonte Farms, who bred Mizzen Mast from a mating of Cozzene and the Graustark mare Kinema. Mast Track is from his first crop.

"He needed a Grade 1 winner just for people to see," Frankel said. "I've been bragging about him to everyone, telling them to breed to him."

Frankel also trained Nawal, the dam of Mast Track, and when she went through the sales ring as a broodmare he bought her for $20,000. Putting his money behind his mouth, the trainer sent Nawal to Mizzen Mast and came up four years later with not only his very own Hollywood Gold Cup winner, but also a new shooter for the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and later the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, both at 10 furlongs over synthetics.

"It's exciting," Frankel said. "I can pay the bills now."