08/19/2001 11:00PM

A trainer at the top of his game (heh, heh)


Del Mar, Calif. - It wouldn't be hard to imagine that right before Bobby Frankel turned the light out Sunday night, he let out a little "Heh, heh, heh," just as he does in one of those Daily Racing Form television commercials. Why not? After he made this game look ridiculously easy last weekend, it's clear that this is Frankel's world, and we're all just living in it.

Frankel won both weekend stakes races at Saratoga, Saturday's Alabama with Flute and Sunday's Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap with Aptitude, and then capped it off by winning the Pacific Classic here at Del Mar for the sixth time in the race's 11-year history with repeat winner Skimming. I should mention that Skimming was Frankel's third winner of the day at Del Mar. Oh, I should also mention that every one of these winners won in a blowout.

Skimming's victory was the most lucrative, since the Pacific Classic is a $1 million race, and Aptitiude's score had to be gratifying, since it was the first time that underachieving colt actually finished first in a stakes race.

But it was Flute's win in the Alabama that made the most impact.

There was no early speed in the Alabama. And that may be why Flute was 4-5 instead of 2-5. By virtue of her decisive win in the Kentucky Oaks and an easy score in a prep over the Saratoga track, Flute was tons the best on paper. But as a confirmed stretch runner, she didn't have a favorable pace set up.

Well, it turned out that Flute isn't a confirmed stretch runner at all. Jaws dropped from coast to coast and points between as Flute assumed the lead in the run to the first turn, set a strong pace, and kicked away in the stretch as if she had been set up by a speed duel that fell into her lap. Clearly, Flute is multi-dimensional, and having had only six starts, she still has room for improvement.

E ven in the absence of Mother Goose winner Fleet Renee, Flute's Alabama was performance of championship caliber. Her Kentucky Oaks/Alabama double will be hard to top when it comes to determining year-end awards. Of course, a win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff would clinch it, and at this point, that may be just as easy an assignment for Flute as the Alabama was. The older filly and mare division is, to put it kindly, in a state of disarray, and none of the leading members of that group can currently be trusted to step up and take charge, let alone hold off a comer like Flute.

As for Skimming, his many virtues deserved to be extolled. He is very fast, both in early speed and in final speed figures. He has stamina, and when he finished third in the Hollywood Gold Cup after a very tough trip he proved his courage. The only thing that prevents him from being the complete package is that he is not the same horse over the sandier Eastern tracks as he is at home in California, and especially at Del Mar, where his record is now four for four after his dominating romp Sunday.

That's a problem, especially since this year with the Breeders' Cup at "Big Sandy," a.k.a. Belmont Park. This point is not lost on Frankel, who indicated after the Pacific Classic that Skimming will remain in California. That means no Breeders' Cup. That may seem harsh for a horse who is at the top of his game and just won a $1 million race in late August. But the decision must have been easier for Frankel since he has so many major weapons.

Even in the wake of his easy win in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup, it's still hard to envision Aptitude being one of those major weapons. He was third best when placed first in the Hollywood Gold Cup last month. Futural, who was disqualified from first, was the best horse that day, and I thought Skimming, who was third, ran a better race than Aptitude as well. Aptitude was obviously the best Sunday, but that isn't stunning praise because he beat an especially modest field. But give Frankel credit for picking the right spots to maximize his horse's talent. He could have run Aptitude in the Whitney Handicap earlier in the Saratoga meet and reserved his dangerously improving Lido Palace for Sunday's race. Instead, he went the other way, and won both races.

Like I said, it's Frankel's world.