Over the years
Frankel has had a lot of horses. "I've gone through six or seven hundred of
them," he says. "That's a lot of experience; it's good for you.
Especially since no two of them are ever alike." Some of them were claimed
away from him. "If you don't lose no horses you're running them in the
wrong spots," is his explanation. Others got too old or went lame and were
A few of those
600 to 700 horses completely baffled Frankel. "I've got to admit," he
says, "that there have been some real good horses that I couldn't do
anything with." But most of them, without question, ran some of their
finest races under Frankel's training. Over the years, Frankel has developed
into as good a horseman as ever tightened a saddle girth. He is especially good
at analyzing soreness; he has the ability to look at a horse, watch him walk to
the racetrack and guess where he is hurting and why. He works closely with Dr.
Jack Robbins and Dr. Joe Cannon, two of the best West Coast veterinarians, and
is not afraid to spend money on treatment for his horses; his vet bills run
about $3,000 a month. He also works closely with his blacksmiths; he likes to
see his horses' hooves trimmed down close and the bruises cut away. He is
regarded as one of the best foot men in the business.
Getting a horse
to the races as sound as possible is one part of a trainer's job; the other is
getting him there physically fit to run his best. Toward this part of the job,
which revolves around how often and how far to gallop or breeze the horse
between races, Frankel has a strangely modest attitude.
just one way to train a horse," he says. "There's six or seven
different ways. And who knows which one will work best? Especially since a
horse is different from day to day. This has got to be the biggest guessing
game ever invented, especially for this kind of bread."
Yet Frankel works
hard at the guessing game. Sometimes, at the late afternoon feeding, he can be
seen standing in front of a horse's stall for five or 10 minutes, just looking,
thinking, trying to get some kind of ESP message on how far and how fast to
breeze the horse next morning. Recently, after one of his horses came from way
back to win a six-furlong sprint, he was strangely down in the dumps for the
rest of the afternoon. "I didn't like the way the horse ran," he said.
"He was too sluggish in the first part. I think I've been training him
wrong. I must have breezed him too much or too fast. What a guessing game this
trainers, working for breeding farms that could send them unlimited streams of
young horses, usually drilled their horses hard and often. It is a matter of
racetrack legend that the late Jim Fitzsimmons once sent out a horse for a
one-mile workout, decided that the work was too slow and told the exercise boy
to work him another mile at a faster clip. Under this kind of regimen, a horse
either proved to be very good and very durable or broke down in a hurry.
horses that mostly have to be patched up like old bicycle tires between races,
takes the opposite approach. "If I trained the way Fitzsimmons did," he
says, "I wouldn't have two horses left in my barn. What I try to do is
bring a horse up to a race at some kind of peak of soundness and as fit as
possible under the circumstances. You have to compromise. If you try to get the
horse too fit, by working him a lot, he may never make it to the race at
where the guessing game comes in again. Nobody knows where the peaks are; every
trainer has his own idea of how fit you can get a horse while still keeping him
sound. You've just got to keep trying, and it isn't easy, especially when
you're on top. Being a leading trainer is a lot of pressure; it's tough. And
the hell of it is that even if you guess right, everything you do amounts to
maybe half a length; that's about all. But one little mistake can cost you
thousands of dollars. If anybody ever asks me my theory of training and I say I
have any idea what's going on, that's the day I'll know I've lost my