John Franks, a Louisiana oilman who won a record four Eclipse awards as an owner of thoroughbred horses, died Wednesday night at Willis-Knighton Pierremont Health Center in Shreveport, La. No cause of death was given. He was 78.
Franks, who founded Franks Petroleum in 1957, bought his first horse in 1979 and quickly immersed himself in the sport. Becoming an astute student of bloodlines, Franks bred most of the horses he raced. At the time of his death, he owned about 500 horses, among them racing stock, stallions, broodmares, weanlings and yearlings.
He was voted an Eclipse award -- racing's highest honor -- as outstanding owner in 1983 and '84, then again in 1993 and '94. Franks led the country five times in purse money and six times in races won. His best years were 1993, when his horses earned $5.6 million, and 1989, when he won 255 races.
Franks' biggest victory in terms of purse money was his colt Answer Lively's win in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Stakes in 1998 at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. But Franks' favorite day was in 1991 at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, when four horses he had bred won stakes races on the same card. Franks owned two of the winners, Blissful Union and Alta's Princess, half sisters who were daughters of the same mare. Alta's Princess was named after Franks' wife of 51 years, Alta Vascocu Franks.
Answer Lively won an Eclipse award when the colt was voted the best 2-year-old male in 1998.
Franks raced much of his stock close to his Shreveport home, and it's been said that without his support, Louisiana Downs, which opened in Bossier City in 1974, might not have survived. But if he had a good horse, he was not opposed to shipping it around the U.S., and in 1986 he won 32 stakes at 17 tracks.
Eleven of his horses earned $1 million or more, including Kissin Kris, who won the Haskell Handicap in New Jersey in 1993, finished second in the Belmont Stakes in New York and ran third in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in Arcadia.
In addition to his gas and oil interests, Franks was involved in real estate, cattle and pecan farming. He owned two farms, a 2,200-acre spread outside Shreveport and 1,000 acres near Ocala, Fla.
Franks was born in Haughton, La. After serving with the Army Air Forces during World War II, he studied geology at Louisiana State University.
Besides his wife, survivors include two daughters, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.