Frankel assistant not worried about future

Humberto Ascanio, 62-year-old assistant to the late Bobby Frankel for 35 years, doesn’t know what he will be doing this time next year, but he’s not about to sit around and fret about it.

“I’m just going to go to work until the end of this year and I think Juddmonte (Farms) is going to make a decision and Dottie (Ingordo-Shirreffs) is going to make a decision about his horses,” Ascanio said Thursday, only three days after Frankel died at 68 from complications of lymphoma. “Whatever happens, whatever decision they make, it’s going to happen.”

Ascanio, who said several trainees that Frankel owned will be sold, currently is overseeing about 32 horses at Hollywood Park. He’s preparing three horses to run in Hollywood Park’s Turf Festival over Thanksgiving weekend, including 2008 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Ventura in the $300,000 Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes on Nov. 28.

“I hope she wins for him (Frankel),” said Ascanio, who also will saddle Proudinsky and Fluke in the $300,000 Grade 1 Citation Handicap on Nov. 27.

Frankel won a record 17 Turf Festival races — 11 more than his closest pursuer — and saddled the winner of the Matriarch a record eight times.

It didn’t take long for Ascanio, who went to work as a groom for Frankel in 1973, to climb his way up the ladder in the Hall of Famer’s barn. He was promoted to assistant about a year later, but not before some serious thought.

“In a way, I was hesitant,” Ascanio said. “I knew he was a real tough guy, real strict. He wanted everything to be right, organized, everything. He said to think about it, that he needed someone to run his (stable). I talked it over with my wife and she said, ‘Do what you want, whatever makes you happy.’ ”

Ascanio said he believes he earned Frankel’s respect through the dedication to his work.

“I was a good worker, I worked hard with his horses and I think he saw this,” Ascanio said.
“He always liked his horses to look good, because if they don’t look good they don’t run (well).”

There was no better teacher in the profession than Frankel, and it seems Juddmonte could do a lot worse than to keep its horses with Ascanio and see what the native of Guadalajara, Mexico can do with them.

It says here Ascanio learned his lessons well and is ready for the challenge of heading his own stable.

2 thoughts on “Frankel assistant not worried about future

  1. Susan — perhaps Humberto will get his reward. We’ll have to wait and see, but I have a gut feeling Juddmonte is going to go with a bigger name trainer who has a presence on both coasts. If that happens, too bad, because I think Ascanio is more than up to the challenge. It’s my feeling that Juddmonte owes Humberto a shot because of all the hard work he’s turned in with their horses as Frankel’s top assistant. If it didn’t work out, they could always go a different route eventually. We’ll see what happens.

  2. Ascanio did have Bobby’s respect more than he would ever let anyone publicly know.

    Not many outside of Southern California are aware of how significant a role Umberto played in the stable’s success. Without Ascanio’s unlimited patience, dedication and hard work, many of the stables greats would not have attained the level of success they did. We had the opportunity in 2003 to witness his capabilities. While on the triple crown trail with Empire Maker, Bobby did not leave the horse’s side. From Kentucky, Maryland and New York, Frankel remained in NY through the fall. Summer to fall for many years, Frankel was in NY with only occasional, short trips back to California. Ascanio had complete responsibility for the horses in Southern California and their success.

    While Bobby got the glory, it was the humble Umberto behind the scenes who got the job done. For 34 years, he gave 100% to Bobby and the horses in his quiet, low key way, he worked diligently to insure that every horse reached its potential, that the large operation ran seamlessly year round and smoothed the feathers of owners and staff.

    When asked one year why he didn’t go out on his own, his loyalty to Bobby and the ability to work with such high quality horses were the main reasons. 34 years of loyalty are unheard of in today’s world especially in the high pressure environment of the Frankel stable.

    One example of Ascanio’s capability and dedication involved the Frankel owned Starine. Starine had not won a grade 1 race, a common goal for mares in the Frankel barn, and had become lame. Frankel had decided to retire her. He was in New York for the summer and fall. Ascanio took her to Delmar to rest before her retirement. At Delmar, Umberto went to work on her to make her more comfortable. Shortly thereafter, she started jogging, progressed to galloping and and working while staying sound. Under his direct care she proceeded to get her Grade 1 by winning a Breeders Cup mare race defeating one of Juddmonte’s top mares in the process. I do not know of one other horseman in the US who would have put the effort into this horse when the stable was reloaded with graded stakes horses every year. Such is Ascanio, capable, honest, loyal, dedicated and hardworking.

    It was sad to see the end of the era of Bobby Frankel. Even sadder was that the ever competitive Frankel recommended sending the horses to other trainers instead of rewarding Umberto for 34 years of unquestioned loyalty and dedication.

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