Updated on 09/16/2011 8:16AM

One race not on Frankel rap sheet


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The two holes in Bobby Frankel's resume used to be the Breeders' Cup and the Kentucky Derby. He took care of one last fall, when after a record 38 defeats without a victory, he finally won a Breeders' Cup race, with Squirtle Squirt in the Sprint.

On Saturday, Frankel, a Hall of Fame trainer, will have a chance to fill in that last blank. He will send out Medaglia d'Oro, a gifted but lightly raced colt who comes off a second-place

finish in the Wood Memorial, in the 128th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. And if he can win, maybe, just maybe, Frankel will finally get to enjoy the spoils of a Derby victory, and a Breeders' Cup win, too.

It should have been a glorious day in his training career, but Frankel was miserable at the end of the Breeders' Cup card last October at Belmont Park. Frankel had won with just 1 of 6 starters, and watched favorites Aptitude, Flute, and You all run disappointing races.

"I was relieved, but I wasn't very happy," Frankel said this week at Churchill Downs. "I was real down. I didn't feel like celebrating."

A Derby win could send him into euphoria. Not because it has been a single-minded quest for Frankel. In contrast to the Breeders' Cup, in which he has had 42 starters, Frankel has run just three horses in the Derby. But according to trainers who have won the Derby, the feeling is indescribable.

"I can't remember how I got from my box to the track," Bob Baffert recalled of his first Derby victory, with Silver Charm in 1997. "It's an awesome experience. Even if you think you're ready for it, you're not totally prepared for it. You can't put a price on that feeling.

"Last year, when John Ward won it with Monarchos, I congratulated him on the track and told him, 'You'll never feel this feeling again.' I wish every person who trains could feel it. Let me put it to you this way, I'd gladly trade the Preakness and Belmont wins of Point Given last year for Monarchos's in the Derby."

As a reminder of how difficult the Derby is to win, Baffert has a framed picture in his Churchill office of the photo finish from the 1996 Derby, when Grindstone nosed out Baffert's Cavonnier.

Nick Zito, like Baffert a two-time Derby-winning trainer, said he was "proud, honored, and humbled" by his Derby victories.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Zito said of his first Derby victory, with Strike the Gold in 1991. "Imagine doing something for 25 years and then having it happen. A lot of great trainers have never won it, and that's what makes it so special."

Unlike Baffert and Zito, however, Frankel has not made the Derby a focal point of his operation. His stable more mirrors that of Neil Drysdale, who also specializes in older horses. Drysdale won the Derby the only time he started horses in the race, with Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. (Drysdale also sent out War Chant in the 2000 running.)

"There was great satisfaction in that I felt he was a deserving winner," Drysdale said. "He deserved to be recognized and get all the accolades. I thought he was a brilliant horse."

In the past year, however, Frankel has at least looked at the Derby from a corner of his eye. Long-time clients Ed and Bernice Gann began buying lightly raced colts they hoped to develop into Derby runners. Medaglia d'Oro, purchased after his second start, got them here.

Medaglia d'Oro will be Frankel's fourth Derby starter. His first two, he readily admits, "had no chance." Pendleton Ridge was 13th, and Burnt Hills 14th, in a 15-horse field in 1990. "They trained horrible here," Frankel said.

Two years ago, Frankel thought he had a terrific chance with Aptitude. But he ran into Fusaichi Pegasus, and had to settle for second.

Frankel, 60, has followed the Derby for more than 40 years. He particularly remembers the 1962 Derby, won by Decidedly, because he was a fan of that year's favorite, Ridan. At the time, Frankel was in the Army Reserves, stationed at Kentucky's Fort Knox. "But I had K.P." - kitchen patrol - "and I couldn't go," he said.

"I signed up for six months of the reserves, because I didn't want to get drafted," Frankel added. "I was a cook in the reception center. I didn't take orders well. I used to upset the whole company. I once had 21 days of hard labor. I was never in uniform after basic training."

Frankel heeded the siren call of the racetrack, not reveille. And the Derby is the sport's ultimate battleground.

"I think if I won I'd be very excited," Frankel said. "This would make my career a big success as a horse trainer. It's something everybody would love to do, like winning the Super Bowl if you're a football coach. It's much more important than a Breeders' Cup race.

"Whenever I meet strangers, and they ask what I do, and I tell them I'm a horse trainer, they always ask if I've won the Kentucky Derby," Frankel said. "All I can say now is, 'I finished second.' "