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Horatio Alger had it all wrong. If you want to be successful and rich, don't bother to study hard and keep your nose to the grindstone. Don't try to be modest and lovable.
Witness the case of Bobby Frankel. At 33, Frankel is an eminently successful trainer of thoroughbreds, one of the three leading horsemen in Southern California. He is on his way to being rich; his horses have earned nearly $800,000 this year and one out of every five he sends to the starting gate wins.
Frankel did not get to the top by burning the midnight oil, for he was a one-semester college dropout. "I was a bad student," he says. "I had no interest. The only subject I ever passed was math; with math you either know it or you don't. But the other stuff you've got to study and I was too busy playing baseball." After college he was in rapid and undistinguished succession a construction worker, soldier and Wall Street clerk. "All I can say about those jobs is that I didn't like any of them." Indeed, he spent most of his formative years between 18 and 22, when the rule book says a young man should be concentrating on a career, hanging indolently around racetracks, betting money cadged from an indulgent mother.
Modesty is totally foreign to Frankel. He says, "I definitely think I'm the best trainer in the business. I'm not scared of any other trainer alive. And I'll tell you one thing. When I'm not No. 1 in the standings, I don't like it." On a recent afternoon when he saddled three winners, and acquaintances kept stopping by to congratulate him, he accepted the praise impassively, not bothering even to smile. "I expect to do that good," he says. "Naturally, I'm happy to win these races but, well, you know how it is. The rich want to get richer and the fellow out in front wants to get farther out. I'm a bad loser, so I'm not going to work at being a good winner."
Still, winners are the nourishment on which the Frankel ego feeds. "I love the action, I'd love to run nine horses a day," he says. "Except, of course, if I ever had nine losers; I hate to saddle a loser." His veterinarian says, "Bobby isn't just determined to win; he's psychotic about winning."
The fact that Frankel wins at all, much less with such stunning consistency, disturbs many of the oldtimers in the game. They do not understand how this brash young newcomer can continue to keep proving himself as good as he claims to be. Horse racing has its traditions. To become a successful trainer, a man is supposed to grow up around horses; he is supposed to spend years of apprenticeship as a helper on a breeding farm or as a groom at the track, sometimes as an exercise boy or jockey.
Frankel spent his apprenticeship on the upper levels of the grandstands of the New York tracks, high above the eighth pole, a spot affording a good view of the stretch drive and convenient access to the $50 betting windows. He was a gambler, not a horseman.
At first he was no better at picking the horses than any other beginner at the game. At the age of 17 he suffered an excruciating embarrassment when he slipped out of his parents' home with their good set of silverware, hocked it for $50 worth of betting money, dropped the $50—and found to his horror that the family had unexpectedly scheduled one of its rare dinner parties.
Gradually, however, he learned how to read past performances and translate them into winning tickets. "I was a good handicapper," he concedes, just as he concedes that he is now a good trainer. "I'd match my picks against anybody at that time. I made scores you wouldn't believe, and with hardly no money. The fellows I was hanging around with at the track could have been my father, but they were following me to the windows to see who I bet—and me just a kid."
Once he went to the track broke, borrowed $5, ran it up to $1,000, put the entire $1,000 on a 4-to-1 shot in the last race and went home with $5,000. On another occasion he started out on a Saturday with a $40 daily double, then won five of the next seven races betting on Bobby Ussery, who was his favorite jockey at the time. The following Monday he picked seven winners in nine races and went home with a two-day profit of $22,000, which he gleefully spread over a bed to prove to his mother that book learning and a job on Wall Street are not everything in life.