The late Bobby Frankel was always a straight shooter. He’d tell jockeys when he thought they’d messed up, and he also wasn’t shy about telling his longtime assistant Humberto Ascanio when he felt Ascanio had done something wrong. Nope, Bobby would always let you know what was on his mind.
But Saturday, after Ascanio saddled Ventura for a victory in the $300,000 Matriarch on the second day of Hollywood Park’s Turf Festival, Frankel’s 35-year assistant said his former boss wasn’t upset after Ventura’s second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 6.
“He don’t say much,” Ascanio said in the winner’s circle after saddling his second Turf Festival winner in two days. He also sent out Fluke to win the $300,000 Citation Handicap on Friday.
“He saw the race, and the pace was slow. Now if I screwed up, he maybe would have told me something. But he knew there was no pace in the race and you can’t give too much advantage to good fillies in the Breeders’ Cup. She ran good, she tried, but there was too much to do, ya know?”
Ascanio said it was a sad day around the barn when Frankel died.
“It was a strange day,” Ascanio said. “I went to his house and he was laying in bed, but I had to see him. He didn’t let me go when he was alive. He said, ‘No, no no. I’ll be alright. I’ll be alright.’ It was a tough day. I mean, I knew he was going to die, but it’s tough.”
As he stood in the winner’s circle after The Matriarch, someone asked him if they have cell phones in heaven. After all, it was Frankel’s final wish that Ventura win The Matriarch and end her brilliant career with a victory. Surely, Bobby would have wanted to voice his thoughts.
“Maybe he’ll call me, hey?” Ascanio said.
Just then, the 62-year-old native of Guadalajara, Mexico reached into his jacket, pulled out his cell phone, looked at it and broke up the gathered media when he said, “Yeah, it’s him.”
If anyone could make a call from heaven, it would probably be Frankel, a man whom Ascanio held in high regard, dedicating the two Turf Festival victories to him.
“It’s a dream, ya know?” he said. “But everything was in memory of him. I’m happy for him. These are the horses he made, and he made my job easier. He was the best.”
Ascanio said there’s been no word yet regarding Juddmonte Farms’ decision about where their horses will be sent now that Frankel is gone. He says the direction they go is out of his control and he’s not going to fret about it.
Thing is, Ascanio has already made his bid, shown Juddmonte what he can do by caring for Frankel’s horses while the Hall of Fame trainer spent half his time in Kentucky and New York. Sure, Frankel was calling the shots and all, but they were in Ascanio’s care and you know Ascanio absorbed all of what Frankel taught him. If Frankel, a man who always wanted everything run exactly right, had not trusted Ascanio, he would have found someone else or not spent as much time in other parts of the country.
No, Humberto Ascanio is not the high-profile name Juddmonte may be seeking, but he’s definitely the right man for the job. The right move would be for Juddmonte to reward Ascanio for all his hard work over the years with their horses by keeping them all with him.