06/29/2001 12:00AM

Restraint means every runner's live


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There is only one Bobby Frankel, which is probably a good thing, since the one Frankel we've got is a pretty intense individual who tends to rule the room whether he wants to or not.

There is only one Bobby Frankel, even though he has gone through three distinct stages in his racing career as hotshot claiming hustler, stakes-class internationalist, and now as a not-so-elder Hall of Fame statesman.

Really, there is only one Bobby Frankel, despite evidence to the contrary on Sunday, when Frankel's name will be spread all over the racing map as he attempts to win three of the four races on the CBS telecast of the $500,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont, the $500,000 United Nations Handicap at Monmouth, the $200,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington, and the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup in his own backyard. Only the Chicago race is missing a Frankel contender.

Since he can't be on both coasts at once, Frankel will do the sensible thing and wake up in his own bed on Sunday morning, greeting the big day at his roost in the hills of Pacific Palisades. Then, like a chess master who has positioned his pieces for the kill, he will sit back in his box at Hollywood Park and watch as they all tumble into place. At least, that's the general idea.

Frankel finds himself in this position not by accident. His traditional strength with older horses through the spring, summer and fall is by design. He likes to call himself "the last man standing," and at the end of action on Sunday, he may be right again.

"There's racing all year," Frankel said as he packed earlier this week for a quick swing to New York to check the troops.

"Santa Anita takes its toll with the bad weather. I try to avoid that meet, and it's been successful for me. But other people, I guess they can't resist it."

He's got a point. As noted in yesterday's edition of this paper, none of the horses who ran in the Santa Anita Handicap last March is involved in the Hollywood Gold Cup on the first day of July. In fact, only five horses have entered, and Frankel has two of them - the Juddmonte Farm runners Skimming and Aptitude. They have each had only two starts this year, and neither raced at the Santa Anita meet.

Frankel cites the ability to resist the temptation to run as the hardest thing a trainer can learn. He likes to quote Grant Pritchard-Gordon, the former racing manager of Juddmonte Farm, who would always remind his trainers, "When in doubt, take them out."

It happened just this week with Flute, Juddmonte's Kentucky Oaks winner, who came up with a minor hoof abscess just days before her scheduled start in the Mother Goose Stakes. The foot could have been patched sufficiently for Flute to run, but Frankel had his doubts. So he took her out.

"I've been around a long time and seen a lot of things happen," Frankel said. "Even if we had patched her now, and she was okay for this race, we might have missed a little infection. The next thing you know, the whole quarter's gone and you've missed three or four months, instead of just five days now.

"This was just the Mother Goose. I want her for the Alabama. And if it happened on top of the Alabama I'd do the same thing. I guess I'd even pass the Kentucky Derby or the Oaks. Sound horses get hurt, so why press it?

"I shouldn't say this," Frankel added, "because people will claim off me all the time. But I won't run a horse that I think has any chance to break down in a race. I couldn't live with myself."

Frankel was not playing St. Francis. He acquired his philosophy the hard way. At the age of 59 - he turns 60 on July 9 - he has been training Thoroughbreds for 35 years. He will admit to his share of mistakes. But he tried to make each of those mistakes only once.

"You learn from experience," Frankel said. "I had a nice horse named No Turning. There was something in his foot. I don't know if he was getting off that leg or what, but the next time I ran him he broke his cannon bone. It's going to happen, but it will happen less if you don't take chances."

Frankel will be the first to admit that he has the advantage of being employed by people who share his thinking. Patrons such as Khalid Abdullah of Juddmonte, Edmund and Bernice Gann, Bob and Geri Witt, and Charles Kenis give Frankel rare latitude in this era of the "hands-on" owner. No one is looking over his shoulder.

As a result, Frankel finds himself poised for the last half of 2001 with nothing but live ammunition. Little wonder that he has a reputation for liking the chances of just about every horse he sends to the post.

"I never dreamed I'd get these kind of horses, the quality of Khalid Abdullah's horses," Frankel said. "Training them has made me look good." It works both ways.