Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Two Flags For Frankel

The last day of thoroughbred racing at Woodbine in 2009 saw the classy Cloudy's Knight win the final added money event of the meet defeating Eagle Poise, a horse once trained by the late Bobby Frankel.

The racing world mourned the passing of a legend in November when Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel succumbed to a long battle with cancer. Frankel was just 68.

Despite his illness, Frankel was a force to be reckoned with at Woodbine racetrack this year.

Twenty-three horses went to post under the conditioner's name at Woodbine in 2009 collecting eight victories, six seconds and three thirds putting the trainer's charges in the money a remarkable 73.9 percent of the time.

Two of the eight victories included Champs Elysees coup in the Canadian International and Ventura's impossible rally to win the Woodbine Mile. Both events boast seven figure purses. It seems winning the big money came easy to Frankel who won 28 races worth $1 million or more over his career, including a record six wins in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Ventura victorious in the Woodbine Mile

Frankel's success at Woodbine reaches back nearly a decade when he notched his first local Stakes win when Riviera rallied to capture the Atto Mile (now Woodbine Mile) in 2000.

In 2004, Commercante would win a memorable edition of the E.P Taylor Stakes for Frankel, in the fog, on a wet Sunday afternoon at Woodbine. Turning into the stretch, Commercante unleashed a furious bid from out of the grey and took the lead in the final sixteenth to win by half a length over Punctilious.

American-based Wild Desert would win Canada's most important race, the Queen's Plate, for Frankel in 2005 off a ten-week layoff. Working as a stand-in trainer, Frankel didn't actually take charge of the horse until a few days before the Plate. Whatever Frankel wrangled in his brief time in charge, it worked.

The man with the magic touch returned to Woodbine soon after for another million-dollar moment when the brilliant Leroidesanimaux roared to victory in the Atto Mile. In victory, Frankel became the first trainer to win the Queen's Plate and Atto Mile in the same year.

Leroisdesanimaux roars to victory in the Atto Mile

The filly Sugar Swirl capped a trio of stakes success in 2005 for Frankel by winning the Princess Elizabeth.

Champs Elysees made his first Woodbine win an exciting one by nipping the 2008 edition of the Northern Dancer Stakes by a nose over Quijano. Though Champs Elysees kept Marsh Side behind him in this event, the latter would turn the tables a few shorts weeks later in the Canadian International.

Champs Elysees romps the Canadian International

As the 2009 campaign approached, the racing industry realized that something was amiss with Frankel. A private man, Frankel continued to run his stable by phone for most of the year while undergoing treatment for cancer. Through adversity, Frankel's colleagues collaborated to saddle numerous winners for their ailing friend.

Brian Lynch, a Woodbine-based trainer, was one of the many friends who stabled horses for Frankel across the continent. Lynch moved to Woodbine from Southern California in 2005 to look after a string of Frank Stronach horses as an assistant. Lynch continued to assist Frankel over the years.

This season, Lynch's barn was home to a pair of brilliant Frankel stars - namely, Champs Elysees and Ventura.

A somewhat forgotten moment in this year of the filly was the versatile Ventura. The classy Ventura would make a huge splash on Frankel's behalf coming out of the clouds with a spectacular sprint to the finish in the Woodbine Mile. With the win, Ventura became the first female to win the G1 race.

Ventura raced from well back early on giving some seven lengths to the leaders. Racing along the rail going into the final turn, jockey Garrett Gomez waited for his moment. The moment arrived half-way through the stretch as track announcer Dan Loiselle bellowed, "Ventura, like a bullet from a gun, sweeps to the lead." Ventura passed Ferneley to win with considerable ease.

Less than ten lengths cover the field just yards from the wire

A streaking Ventura legs it out to defeat Ferneley

In the Fall, it was announced that the classy Champs Elysees would make his final start in the Canadian International. Once again jockey Garrett Gomez would take the mount.

Champs Elysees was making his last ever start in the International

The six-year-old horse was blocked from sure victory in his previous start losing the Northern Dancer Stakes in a bumpy stretch run while blocked on the inside. This time, Gomez would make sure the champ would have his run.

The champ is here! Champs Elysees wins the Pattison Canadian International over Jukebox Jury

Champs Elysees, from an inside post, raced at the back of the pack with Northern Dancer winner Just as Well. Returning International champion Marsh Side was sent to an early lead and set a slow, deliberate pace

Euro invader Jukebox Jury, closed to within a half-length of Marsh Side at the quarter pole and overtook the lead mid-stretch. However, Champs Elysees was ready to make his run. With four horses to beat in Woodbine's long stretch run, Champs Elysees closed with determination to defeat Jukebox Jury in deep stretch for a well-earned victory.

It's not often fans get to enjoy watching a horse race into his sixth year, especially one with nearly $3M in earnings. Thanks to Frankel and Juddmonte Farm, Woodbine locals had the pleasure of seeing Champs Elysees race four times this season and the International victory might just have sealed Canadian Horse of the Year honours. In his previous three starts, Champs Elysees was third in the G2 Nijinksy won by Rahy's Attorney; second in the G2 Sky Classic won by the now retired Marchfield; and a troubled fourth in the G1 Northern Dancer where he was placed third through disqualification.

Frankel passed away soon after on November 16, 2009. And yet, the wins kept coming.

Friends and family found solace when the last horse the trainer entered won a non-descript claiming event at Hollywood Park. As entries were taken before Frankel died earlier in the week, the program listed Life By R R as being trained by Frankel. When Life By R R won, jockey Alex Solis celebrated with a couple of fist pumps.

And in the new year when Sovereign Award winners are announced in Canada, Frankel's entourage may celebrate one last time should Champs Elysees capture Canadian Horse of the Year honours.

Frankel's impact on this 2009 season at Woodbine will not soon be forgotten. His horses were a joy to watch and wager.

As the sun set on the 2009 Woodbine campaign, former Frankel horse Eagle Poise was denied in the Valedictory Stakes. But there, standing tall and proud in the winners enclosure waved two blue and pink flags serving to remind Woodbine locals of Frankel's presence and of his considerable gift to this historic meet. Each flag representing one of Frankel's seven-figure coups by the Juddmonte pair of Ventura and Champs Elysees.

Mr. Frankel, the Woodbine faithful thank you for such a wonderful parting gift. Gone, but not forgotten.

Two Flags Fly High for Frankel


Ernie said...

Honorable tribute to an honorable man.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Woodbine for that wonderful tribute. Bobby's smiling.

Keith TDH said...

EAch year woodbine displays the silks of the winners of the Queens Plate, Woodbine Mile and International.

Frankel took two of three.

It was fun to watch his horses race here!