Floored by Frankel

It just doesn’t make sense. Frankel seems an aberration, a contradiction; something that defies all the rules of genetics and racing tradition. At the risk of sounding pompous and disgustingly provincial, Frankel should have American blood coursing through his veins, especially on his sire’s side; a Seattle Slew incarnate let loose over the grassy expanses of European racetracks. After all, how else can you explain a horse who contradicts all the principals of European racing and breeding by running with the brilliance and controlled reckless abandon of, well, an American. Yet he is by an Irish-bred staying sire, out of an Irish-bred mare, by a staying stallion who was the leading sire in England, Ireland, France, and Australia multiple times each?

Europe has, of course, produced fast enough sprinters, but nothing like Frankel, who carries sprinting speed a distance of ground and just keeps going, crushing his opponents, who cannot match his devastating speed and power. You just do not see horses in Europe, where two lengths is considered a romp, winning all nine of their career starts by an average margin of five lengths, including victories of six, 10, and 13 lengths. You don’t see horses opening up a 10-length lead midway through the 2,000 Guineas and winning in a canter. Here is a horse who can beat a top-class miler like Canford Cliffs with an explosive turn of foot or simply run his foes into the ground right from the start, as he did in the Guineas.

So, what is the explanation behind an enigmatic wonder like Frankel? Could it be the American blood from his female family through Danzig, His Majesty, and Stage Door Johnny, gushing forth like it never has before? Those names evoke stamina more than speed.

Could it be there is something mystical about this horse? Could it be the American influence is not from any of the horses in his pedigree, but from the person for whom he was named?

When Bobby Frankel died in Nov. 2009, it’s as if his spirit was whisked away to England, manifesting itself inside a yearling colt by Galileo. Why would Juddmonte name a son of Galileo after Frankel, rather than a colt with an American pedigree who could show off his brilliance in the States? Did they know something? Was it gut instinct? Was this particular Galileo yearling running around his paddock cursing out his fellow yearlings and finding something to complain about? Or perhaps he walked up to the fence one day and boldly stated he was going to be a super horse, and if you didn’t believe him you were a moron.

Whatever the reason, it is beginning to look more and more as if Frankel the horse embodies the spirit of Frankel the human, whether you buy it or not.

Let’s look at the facts, Bobby hated to lose. Bobby dreamed of having that one immortal superstar for Juddmonte and believed he did with Empire Maker. Bobby was so competitive he took no prisoners on the racetrack. If he could crush you he would. Bobby was defiant and never afraid of any opponent. He never backed down from a challenge and would love to have seen his namesake come here for the Breeders’ Cup Mile and attempt to thwart Goldikova’s bid for a fourth consecutive victory. If Frankel the horse did come for the BC Mile (which he will not according to trainer Henry Cecil) and knocked off everyone’s favorite heroine, Frankel the person would have flashed that familiar Cheshire cat grin and relished having spoiled the fairy tale ending, just as he did when he defeated the darling of New York, Funny Cide, in the Belmont Stakes. He enjoyed being the bad guy.

But if Frankel the horse did win the Mile, he would not return to the boos that awaited Empire Maker after the Belmont. The colt has built up his own legion of fans, and many Americans would rejoice if Frankel came here and won. After all, in many ways this is his rightful home and it would be a shame if he never got the opportunity to show off his American-style brilliance to America.                                                                                                         

Bobby may have enjoyed playing the bad guy, but behind that crusty exterior was a marshmallow of a heart and soul that always had a warm place for his special circle of friends -- human, equine, and canine; not necessarily in that order. He was almost childlike around his horses and especially his Australian Shepherds. When the love of his life, Happy, died in his arms he wept like a baby and was grief-stricken for weeks, unable to talk about her without breaking down. When Happy was seriously ill, Bobby had decided to stay home and care for her rather than attend the Breeders’ Cup. As a result, he missed Ginger Punch’s gutsy victory in the Distaff. He would name his next dog Ginger and the following one Punch.

Several days before his filly, Flute, won the Kentucky Oaks in 2001, he stood outside her stall with a big smile on his face and lavished affection on her, hugging and kissing her and talking baby talk to her. He said he wanted her to win badly, simply because she was such a sweet filly to be around. That was the Bobby Frankel few people ever saw.

As for Frankel the horse, he is the culmination of a miracle that began in 1990 when a brash, outspoken Jew from the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y. formed a long-lasting bond with a Saudi Arabian prince.

It was an unlikely partnership that somehow became one of the most successful alliances in racing history. Everything they built together and everything they strove for has been realized in one very special colt. Perhaps it is appropriate that Frankel the horse remains an enigma. Some things just aren’t worth trying to figure out.

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