Robert Frankel, one of the three best trainers of my lifetime, died early this morning at his home in Pacific Palisades from complications of lymphoma. Frankel, a five-time Eclipse Award winner as top trainer in the nation, was 68.
A Brooklyn native whose tough exterior belied his sensitive side, Frankel had been absent from the race track for more than six months while battling a disease that he’d beaten in the late 1990s but that had resurfaced in the past year.
About the only race Frankel never won was the Kentucky Derby, but he won six Breeders’ Cup races, including the Classic in 2004 with Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. He also won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar a record six times and is one of only six trainers to saddle the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap in consecutive years.
Inducted into horse racing’s Hall of Fame in 1995, Frankel is second all-time on the money list behind D. Wayne Lukas. His horses won 3,654 races from 17,657 starters for earnings of $227,947,775.
But Frankel was about way more than just numbers. Though he could bite your head off one minute, he also had an extremely soft side that few outside the sport ever saw. He was deeply saddened in 2007 when his dog, Happy, died after a lengthy illness.
The Breeders’ Cup honors its top jockey each year with the Bill Shoemaker Award, and here’s a call for officials to begin recognizing the top trainer each year with the Robert Frankel Award.