In November 2009, shortly after Robert J. Frankel succumbed to lymphoma, one of the trainer’s patrons, Prince Khalid Abdullah (Juddmonte Farms), articulated his deep sense of respect for the Hall of Fame trainer by naming a thoroughbred after him.
The colt was of royal pedigree, born on February 11, 2008 and it must have struck Prince Abdullah that the bay son of Galileo was a fitting vessel to carry the spirit of one whose accomplishments celebrated the thoroughbred and the sport.
From the first moment he set foot on the turf as a 2 year-old juvenile, Robert Frankel’s namesake would demonstrate how a legend becomes.
(“Become” derived from the Old English becuman, meaning [to] happen, [to] come about, [to] arrive.)
Trainer Robert J. Frankel — who was quickly dubbed “Bobby” by the press, but who preferred to be called Robert by those who knew him best — was a legendary thoroughbred trainer.
Born in Brooklyn to a family of very modest means, Frankel would come up through the ranks to become successful and respected, modelling his methods after another superstar, Charlie Whittingham ( Ack Ack, Ferdinand, Sunday Silence and Exceller). Frankel ran his horses on both the East and West coasts, but it was his move to California that brought him the best horses and mighty clients. Dottie Ingordo- Shirreffs became his business associate, managing his stable and his life (by her own admission) and over the years, the two became like brother and sister.
Frankel acquired patrons like Prince Khalid Abdullah, Jerry and Ann Moss, William and Marion Frankel (no relation), the Firestones (owners of, among others, Genuine Risk), Ed Gann, Frank Stronach and Stavros Niarchos. And Frankel rewarded their faith in him. From 2000-2009, Frankel-trained horses won over 10 million dollars.
In his private life, Frankel was a man who inspired great loyalty and respect among staff and patrons. He was kind and revered all living things, forming close relationships with champions Sightseek, the feisty Toussaud and her son, Empire Maker. Of the latter he said, “How could he not be great? He’s out of Toussaud.”
Frankel’s other great love were his dogs: he stayed home from the 2007 Breeder’s Cup with his beloved Australian shepherd, Happy, who was dying. He let it be known that his place was first and foremost with his canine companion. Frankel seemed more at ease around horses and dogs than he was around most people. He understood them in ways that most of us don’t and, although he would have rued the comparison, he was as much an animal whisperer as he was a shrewd and strategic trainer.
“When the Almighty One created the horse, he said to the magnificent creature: ‘ I have made thee as no other. All the treasures of the earth lie between thy eyes. Thou shalt carry my friends upon thy back. Thy saddle shall be the seat of prayers to me. And thou shalt fly without wings, and conquer without any sword.’ “ -The Koran
The Namesake, as might be expected, is also a turf specialist. To date, his record is impeccable: 11 for 11. In his most recent victory at Royal Ascot last month, the colt awed pundits and fans alike. He quite simply put on one of the most devastating shows of equine superiority anyone had ever seen.
Frankel descends from a royal line, carrying the genes of Urban Sea, Danehill, Sadler’s Wells, Danzig, Miswaki, Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, Buckpasser, Nearctic, Natalma, Native Dancer and Ribot in his second to fifth generations. The Galileo-Danehill cross has proved itself to be auspicious; classic winners like Maybe, Roderic O’Connor and Golden Lilac also descend from this mix.
When The Namesake first arrived at Henry Cecil’s barn he was a hot-headed, pushy youngster who had a lot to learn. The Galileo’s do tend to be rather “hot” in temperament generally, so that aspect of things was really no surprise to Cecil. It was the colt’s attitude that got him tons of attention, right from the start.
Put simply, young Frankel not only wanted everything his own way, he also wanted the other horses to get out of his way.
The Namesake had successfully completed his initial training when he arrived in Sir Henry Cecil’s yard. Now, one of his first lessons as a race-horse-in-training would be to walk with a string of other Cecil juveniles in a more-or-less orderly fashion, followed by the famous “gallops” over Newmarket Heath, considered an ideal way to build body strength and stamina.
It can take a long time to train juveniles to walk in line and, as his distinguished trainer was quick to observe, Frankel liked to bully his peers along. He would butt at the horse in front or kick the one behind him and the whole training session would descend into havoc. On the gallops, he was a speedball unless throttled half to death. Never mean, the young Frankel was a personality to be reckoned with — spirited, overly confident and fast. Very fast.
The colt had met his match, however, in Sir Henry Cecil. Acknowledged as the pre-eminent British trainer of all time, the brilliant Cecil has been a controversial figure throughout his career. Today, at age 69, he may have mellowed some. But behind an otherwise steely gaze, the “bad boy” still glimmers — and, occasionally, makes his presence known during interviews about his most famous charge. Cecil is no stranger to the press, however. He has trained the champions Kris, Ardross, Diesis, Skip Anchor, Oh So Sharp, Commander In Chief, Bosra Sham, Twice Over and Midday, with whom he won the 2009 BC Filly & Mare Turf, among others.
To date, Henry Cecil has been named Champion Trainer 10 times, had 25 domestic Classic winners in Great Britain alone and is Master Trainer at Royal Ascot, having saddled no less than 70 winners there over the years. Cecil is credited with having particularly good results with fillies, of which Bosra Sham and Midday are shining examples. In this, he shares a connection with American trainer Bobby Frankel.
But of all his former and current champions, it is Frankel who has given him the penultimate thrill and whom he describes as “… the best I’ve ever had. Maybe the best there is.”
Cecil certainly knew what to do about the rowdy Frankel. But would he manage to get him right? This is always what haunts the great trainers, who can not only spot a future champion, but can also get into their minds to see what makes them tick. In Frankel’s case, it was that he loved to run and just wanted to get on with it.
To allow the colt to have his own way would have probably ended in disaster. His young bones could shatter, taking others down with him. Or a rider could be paralyzed for life. Or he could develop into a monster, too dangerous to have on the turf. Or end up racing himself into the ground at the start, only to be left far behind at the finish. The answer was not to dampen The Namesake’s spirit and drive but, rather, to channel them into a productive racing style.
Frankel was ridden and handled by only the best lads Cecil had and that meant, among other things, lads with quiet hands. Together, trainer, rider and handler began to teach the precocious colt how to listen to commands, calm himself down and pace himself, as well as all the other “basics,” such as loading into a starting gate. The Namesake’s best distance was tougher to determine. Would he be a sprinter like his dam? Or a Classic individual, like his sire?
And although Frankel began to show signs that his eagerness could be harnessed, in his first win he jumped out of the starting gate, was throttled by Queally to slow him down and then, once he’d relaxed a little, responded when asked to beat Nathaniel, a really good colt who would go on to forge his own star status. Surprisingly, Cecil chose a race run over a mile for Frankel’s first start, probably to see if he had a stayer or a horse who needed a shorter distance.
In the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes (2010) at Newmarket, Frankel is still contesting who’s in charge. He wins again though, despite fighting with Queally to get his head a good three-quarters of the way:
At 3, The Namesake was starting to show a more integrated side of himself, working with young Tom Queally in a much more willing and professional fashion than he had done as a juvenile. But it wasn’t easy getting there: Frankel was still a challenge to handle. The public, not really understanding anything except that they wanted him to go on winning, blamed Queally instead. Fortunately, both trainer and jockey shrugged off the criticism and maintained cool heads. By the time Frankel arrived at Glorious Goodwood for the Qipco Sussex Stakes, the transformation was complete. It is in the Sussex that we see Frankel’s signature as we have come to know it: loping along, until he gets his cue from Queally to go on. And then comes a devastating turn of foot, followed by an acceleration that tends to make the other horses look like they’re standing still.
Here he is in the Sussex, beating 5-time Grade One winner, Canford Cliffs.
When Frankel returned to race at 4, he had matured physically. Despite a build that some might find stocky, a large part of Frankel’s success owes to his ability to stretch that frame out, lowering himself as close to the ground as possible to achieve top-speed. In fact, this trait has the advantage of cutting down resistance, like an arrow or an airplane or an Olympic swimmer.
And it’s not only his unlikely transformation from a bull-like presence to a torpedo on the turf. At home, Frankel’s personality is quite different than the calm fellow we see in the walking ring before a race. If trainer Cecil looks a bit bleary-eyed at times, it would be because he goes to Frankel’s stall each and every night to be certain that The Namesake hasn’t gotten himself into trouble. The colt is noted for disassembling his stall — manger, bucket….pretty much anything he can get his jaws around or pummel to death with his forelegs. He seems to regard this kind of bludgeoning as recreational. Cecil confessed that he can’t sleep at night until he’s checked on Frankel “…just to see what he’s gotten up to. I like to make sure he isn’t turned upside down or something….”
Frankel’s most recent victory has been described as “the British version of Secretariat’s Belmont.” In a sense, it was the race his fans were waiting for — and the Frankel-Queally duo were most obliging. Taking on some really good competition, Frankel seemed to walk away from the entire field 3 furlongs from the finish, winning the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in June by 13 lengths.
(NOTE: Below is the long version of The Namesake’s victory in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot 2012, featuring the post-race analysis of another racing legend, former jockey Willie Carson.)