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Gann and Frankel Make Dynamic Duo

Owner has been working for almost 30 years with Hall-of-Fame trainer, who is close to earnings record.

November 29, 2002|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

Owner Ed Gann and trainer Bobby Frankel were in the claiming-horse business, though not together, in California in the early 1970s. Frankel, a brash newcomer from New York, won 60 races -- still the record -- at Hollywood Park in 1972.

Gann, meanwhile, was struggling with a small stable of cheap horses. In what might have passed for a compliment, one day Frankel claimed a filly of Gann's out of a race for $20,000. Later, Frankel bred the filly to Cannonade, the 1974 Kentucky Derby winner, and sold the offspring for $128,000.

"I said to myself that I've got to meet this Frankel guy," Gann said as he recalled the story.

He sent Frankel over to inspect the 10 horses Gann was then running.

"He came back and said he didn't like any of them," Gann said. "He suggested that I start over. Finally, he said that maybe a couple were worth keeping. I hired him as my trainer, and now we've been together almost 30 years. I must be his oldest client."

As the season winds down, Frankel has an outside chance to break the purse record that trainer Wayne Lukas set in 1988. Winning 318 races 14 years ago, the Lukas barn earned $17,842,358. Frankel, who's at $16,619,440, is, as usual, operating on multiple fronts this weekend, and will send out horses in races worth more than $3 million at Hollywood Park, Churchill Downs and Aqueduct.

"I need to win some of those 500-granders to have a shot," Frankel said. "If it happens, it happens. You need some luck as well as the good horses. I think my horses are ready, but you never know until afterward. Sometimes you work a horse and he gives you a perfect workout, and then he runs terrible. Sometimes a work is messed up and then the horse runs his eyeballs out. It's not a science."

Frankel's outfit has won 54 stakes races this year, 40 of them graded events and 14 of those in Grade I stakes. The Lukas record of 92 stakes wins, set in 1987 when his barn earned $17.5 million, is safe for another year -- and probably all years.

Nine of Frankel's stakes wins this year have come with horses campaigned by Gann, a 79-year-old Rancho Santa Fe businessman. The Gann-Frankel relationship has not been without its bumps -- Gann once said that having the shoot-from-the-hip Frankel as a trainer was like trying to work with the demanding owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner -- but the bottom line is that Frankel, regardless of his brusque style, keeps sending Gann to the winner's circle. In the last two years, Gann's horses have earned $5.6 million.

"Frankel knows horses -- he gets them to do things nobody else does -- and he's a good manager," Gann said. "He also knows how to deal with the people that work for him. A lot of those guys have been with him longer than I have. The people you have working for you are everything in this game."

When Frankel was voted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1995, the plaque at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., didn't include Gann's name among the major owners who had helped the trainer get there. Frankel insisted the plaque be redone to correct the oversight.

Gann's leading runners this year have been Medaglia d'Oro, who won the Travers and finished second in the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic; and You, one of the best 3-year-old fillies in the country.

Frankel has also won 17 stakes for the Juddmonte Farm of Prince Khalid Abdullah, a member of Saudi Arabia's royal family.

For Juddmonte, Frankel trains Beat Hollow, winner of three Grade I stakes, and Tates Creek and Banks Hill, who'll be running Sunday in the $500,000 Matriarch at Hollywood Park.

Frankel has won the Matriarch four times in the last six years, including last year with Starine, who gave him his second Breeders' Cup win when she won the Filly & Mare Turf at Arlington Park last month.

"Bobby is patient with his horses, he's very good at picking the right spots to run, and the help he has at the barn is out of this world," said Doug O'Neill, the leading trainer at Hollywood Park this meet. "Those guys stick with him year after year. Bobby himself is a workaholic. If he wins a million-dollar race, he'll still be at the barn early the next morning."

Among the veterans at the barn are Humberto Ascanio, hired by Frankel in 1973 after he had worked for leading trainers Buster Millerick and Farrell Jones for five years; Ruben Loza, the stable foreman who came aboard in 1977; and Al Schwizer, who at 66, five years older than Frankel, still exercises four or five head a morning for the contingent at Santa Anita.

This weekend is typical: While the boss pinballs his way from Churchill Downs to Aqueduct, Ascanio will be responsible for saddling duties at Hollywood Park, until Frankel returns Sunday for two of those $500,000 races he was talking about.

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