Monday, May 5, 2003

Frankel will win Triple Crown race soon

By Richard Rosenblatt
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - On the day after his Empire crumbled, Bobby Frankel was far from distraught.

Sure, the Hall of Fame trainer failed again to win the Kentucky Derby even though he had his best shot so far with favorite Empire Maker and Peace Rules.

"If I don't win it this time," he said before the race, "I'll probably never win it."

But Sunday morning, Frankel shrugged off that prediction, praised champion Funny Cide and said his colts ran well in defeat.

As for himself?

"I'm great," he said. "I wasn't nervous going in, and I felt great coming out. I've been beat before, and I'm sure I'll get beat again."

While Frankel handled the tough defeat with class, the point is that he just can't seem to win the big one.

The four-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation's top trainer remains the best in the business without a victory in a Triple Crown race. Sort of like Phil Mickelson, the best golfer without a win in a major championship - the Masters, British Open, PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

Still searching to complete a resume that put him in the Hall of Fame back in 1995, the 61-year-old Frankel is winless in four Derbies with six horses, 0-for-2 in the Preakness and 0-for-2 in the Belmont Stakes.

And he was 0-for-38 in Breeders' Cup races before his breakthrough win with Squirtle Squirt in the 2001 BC Sprint. In the $4 million BC Classic, the richest of the races, he's 0-for-7 with a total of 11 horses.

The failures - even with the overwhelming favorite Empire Maker on Saturday - won't deter him. In two weeks, he'll probably send out Peace Rules in the Preakness. He may even run Empire Maker or his other prized 3-year-old, Midas Eyes.

Empire Maker finished second Saturday, 13/4 lengths behind Funny Cide, the first gelding since 1929 to win the Derby. Peace Rules was another head back in third.

Unlike D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, Frankel hasn't become obsessed with winning Triple Crown races, the Derby in particular. But he's been so close - two seconds in the Derby and in the Belmont - that a victory seems inevitable.

The first time Baffert came to the Derby, in 1996, his Cavonnier was beaten by a nose by Grindstone. The trainer was devastated for a year. He returned in '97 with Silver Charm, who won by a head over Captain Bodgit. Baffert now has eight wins in Triple Crown races.

Lukas won the first of his four Derbies on his eighth try, with the filly Winning Colors in 1988. The Hall of Famer now has four Derby wins and 13 victories in Triple Crown races.

Just after the Derby, Lukas shook hands with Frankel and told him: "There's one up there with your name on it."

Discouraged at first, Frankel rebounded well the next day. He had an irritating week, telling all the doubters Empire Maker's well-publicized bruised right front foot was fine and the colt was ready to win.

It didn't happen. But it will for Frankel, sooner rather than later. If nothing else, he was a winner in handling the pressure of the week.

"I think I conducted myself very well," he said. "I can't hide my emotions a lot of time. I'm not as crazy as Bobby Knight but I can get a little nuts."


Richard Rosenblatt is the horse racing writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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