What had been a forgettable weekend in Japan got a whole lot better for Bobby Frankel once he returned to California.
An odds-on favorite to win his second Eclipse Award in a row as the nation's top trainer and his third overall, Frankel swept the $500,000 Matriarch and $500,000 Hollywood Derby Sunday with Starine and Denon, respectively, as Hollywood Park's three-day Autum Turf Festival concluded.
Frankel's 15th and 16th Grade I wins of the year came after an 11-hour plane ride home from Japan, where Lido Palace had finished eighth in Saturday's Japan Cup Dirt and Timboroa had finished 15th and last in Sunday's Japan Cup.
Yet Frankel's happiness about his two wins was tempered by a fatal left leg injury suffered by Spook Express, a 7-year-old multiple-stakes winning mare, who was euthanized after falling near the Matriarch finish line.
Spook Express' jockey, Mike Smith, escaped uninjured.
"It's hard to celebrate when somebody else is suffering," Frankel said.
The Matriarch win was Frankel's fourth in the last six years, and it was particularly satisfying because he also owns Starine. A 4-year-old gray filly bred in France, Starine had shown an affinity for soft turf, so Frankel was confident she would run well Sunday.
Under a perfect ride for jockey John Velasquez, who won his fourth graded stakes in two days after winning the Demoiselle, Remsen and Cigar Mile on Saturday at Aqueduct, the 3-1 second choice sat close to the slow pace set by Crystal Music, took over into the stretch and went on to win by 21/2 lengths. She completed the 11/8 miles in 1:50 over a course labeled yielding.
This was the ninth win in 29 starts for Starine and her second graded victory. She had been dominant in Saratoga's Diana Handicap on Sept. 3.
"I thought the [Saturday] rain would help her, to be honest with you," said Frankel, who has 47 total stakes wins in 2001. "She was a little too keen [when 10th of 12] in the Breeders' Cup [Filly and Mare Turf]. I thought she would relax a little more on the soft turf.
"I definitely didn't think she would end up being a Grade I horse. I thought she would be a nice horse, a nice allowance horse."
The loss of Spook Express--owned by Janice and Robert Aron and trained by Tom Skiffington--was a sad reminder to Frankel.
"I feel bad for Tom," Frankel said. "It's a devastating feeling. I know what he's going through because it happened with me with Spanish Fern in the  Breeders' Cup [Filly and Mare Turf]."
The South African-bred Spook Express, who finished second in last month's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, won 11 of 22 and earned $1,085,670.
Lethals Lady, a 20-1 shot making her U.S. debut, saved the place by a neck over 2-1 favorite Golden Apples, who finished well, but was hampered by the extremely slow pace (25 3/5, 50 3/5 and 1:14 2/5 for the six furlongs) and the condition of the course.
"Had the turf been firm, she would have ate their lunch," said jockey Garrett Gomez of Golden Apples, who had won two of three in this country before Sunday.
"Once we turned for home, it was kind of like putting slick tires under a 350-horsepower engine. You could just feel her spinning her wheels.
"I was confident until I had to ask her to run. Then, she just went to falling down. The ground was just too soft for her."
Frankel had been singing the praise of Denon for some time and the son of Pleasant Colony came through in his U.S. debut in the Derby.
Ridden by Chris McCarron because Jerry Bailey preferred not to come to California after spending the weekend working in Japan, the 11-10 favorite Denon--who raced coupled with third-place finisher Aldebaran--wore down 14-1 shot Sligo Bay nearing the wire to win by a length in 1:49 1/5 for the 11/8 miles.
Owned by Flaxman Holdings Ltd. and Edmund Gann, Denon earned his third win in seven tries and gave his jockey his first victory in the Hollywood Derby.
"He was a really good horse in Europe," Frankel said.
"He'd trained very well, and I thought he would run well, especially when [the track] came up soft. You look at his form and he ran really well on the heavy ground overseas.
"I'll give him some time off now. I want to have him ready for the big races next year. Aldebaran ran well. He looked like he was struggling out there, and I think on firmer ground he would have shown a little better turn of foot."
Sligo Bay finished three lengths clear of Aldebaran. Mizzen Mast, also in Frankel's stable, and Bowman Mill were late scratches from the Derby because of the condition of the turf.
Defending champion Tout Charmant and Tranquility Lake, who finished second in the Matriarch a year ago, were scratched out of the Grade I on Sunday.
A day after Japanese-based Kurofune scored a record-setting win in the Japan Cup Dirt, the host country ran 1-2 Sunday in Tokyo when Jungle Pocket edged defending champion T.M. Opera by a neck to win the $2-million Japan Cup.
In beating the world's richest thoroughbred--T.M. Opera had banked nearly $15.25 million going into Sunday's race--Jungle Pocket completed the 11/2 miles on turf in 2:23 4/5. Timboroa wasn't the only U.S. horse that didn't fare well. Jockey Gary Stevens was eighth on the Neil Drysdale-trained White Heart, and Mike Smith was 12th aboard Cagney for trainer Richard Mandella.