Here’s what we know — Bobby Frankel is ill. The Daily Racing Form reported last week that the only trainer to win five Eclipse Awards is at his home in Pacific Palisades instead of New York, where he normally spends his summers. Speculating on Frankel’s illness or its severity is irresponsible and something we won’t get into. There are all sorts of rumors and stories floating around out there that are just that — rumors and stories — and until they become fact, we won’t comment on them.
What we will comment on is how we hope this is something that will not keep Frankel from returning to his training duties on a fulltime basis. Horse racing is a sport the 68-year-old Brooklyn native loves, and he’s one of the best trainers I’ve seen during my more than 30 years following the sport. It’s tough to put anybody up there with the incomparable Charlie Whittingham, but Frankel ranks right up there with the other greats of the past 30 to 40 years.
One industry icon, Dr. Jack Robbins, president and founding director of the Oak Tree Racing Association and one of the most respected track veterinarians in the business before his retirement more than 20 years ago, told me recently that Frankel just might be the best trainer he’s ever worked for. That’s high praise indeed.
“I worked with Bobby when he first got to California and I worked with him until I retired,” Robbins said. “He’s a very astute, if not diplomatic, horse trainer. Bobby, I wouldn’t want him to hear it, but he probably was the best trainer I ever worked for. He has a knack with a horse. You don’t know why, because he’s never been able to get on a horse to my knowledge, but he seems to know what to do with a horse at the right time. He was a little bit of an ornery guy with his owners, but he was very pleasant as far as I was concerned.”
Word of Frankel’s sickness comes at a time when he’s struggling to win races, particularly at Hollywood Park. Heading into the final week of the 55-day meet, Frankel’s horses have won only once in 35 tries, and that was a victory by Midships in the Whittingham Handicap on June 6. On Saturday, a pair of Frankel runners finished fourth in the two stakes — Mast Track in the $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup and Visit in the $250,000 Royal Heroine Mile.