Bobby Frankel, the trainer Watched while a horse named Johnny's Image was cooled down. The stable boy threw water over the horse and washed him with a sponge. Steam came off the animal's back and he glistened in the sun, a large horse, coat the color of a fine baseball mitt. Frankel kneeled and looked at the tendon. petted it and then let the horse walk in a circle. "Agua!" he yelled, and the stable boy led the horse to water. But probably only Bobby Frankel, whose father sold knishes and whose brother became a rabbi, could make him drink.
"This could be a million-dallar horse," he said with a smile. "This was his first time on grass. His sire throws a good grass horse." He pointed to the front legs. "Now all we have to do is keep the legs together."
Back in the stable area of Santa Anita race track, the name Bobby Frankel is on a lot of horses. He is this season and for a lot of seasons the winningest trainer of them all, a rich man with a Caddy for a car and a plastic bubble for a shower and the pool in a back yard exploding with flow- ers. Sixty horses at the moment are being trained by Frankel, some of them owned by him, most of them owned by others including some very famous movie stars. Bobby Frankel knows some very famous movie stars.
Bobby Frankel is sort of famous himself. He is a trainer who got into horses the hard way-by betting on them. He discovered horses after he discovered shooting pool. He started going to the track. Cutting school and going to the track. Once or twice I went with him. He went so much he flunked out of school. This is how Bobby Frankel became a trainer. By flunking out of school.
I have come to find out how this happened. There was a time when my job was to explain Frankel to people. I was always explaining him to Mr. Lipton, whose field was teaching chemistry and who was a homeroom teacher. Frankel was a total puzzle to him. A really smart kid about to make a real mess of his life. Once, after an eraser fight, Mr Lipton punished me and not Frankel. He explained this by saying punishment would do Frankel no good. Frankel was doomed, lost. Say a prayer. Nothing could help. Bobby Frankel was a real loser.
A lone cloud, a puff of loneliness, floats over the race track. In the background are the San Gabriel Mountains. Out the track, Bobby Frankel is running alongside one of his horses. He runs and looks at the horse and then runs on for the exercise of it. Later he explanins it.
"It looks like I'm doing nothing, right?"
"I really don't know I do it. It's something I can't explain. I really get into the horse's head. Think the way he does."
Frankel's hair is still dark. He is of course, tanned. He was always tanned and dark. He was always not what would call modest. He had a big mouth and a fast pair of hands- always in the fight. He couldn't stand to lose. Once, after we lost the basketball game, he cried. If you looked at him funny, he would fight you. Bobby Frankel was always very competitive.
Mr. Lipton used to take out Frankel's record and look at his IQ and ask me to explain Bobby Frankel-tell him something maybe about his family. Explaining Bobby Frankel was never easy.
Years later rumors came down the Jersey Turnpike that Frankel had become a horse trainer. Those of us who kept in touch discussed this and considered it an impossibility. There was not a single horse withing miles of our old neighborhood. A horse trainer, we all knew, was someone like Barry Fitzgerald in the movies-tweedy, only, bent, and talking with a brogue.
This was not Bobby Frankel. His brother was going to be a rabbi. His father owned Frankel's knishes. His father wore a skullcap, and closed on Saturdays to go to synagogue. On Saturdays, Bobby Frankel went to the track.
He started by walking the horses. He walked them around in a circle, around and around, and then some guy who been watching him gave him a horse to train-a filly. The horse broke down, but Frankel did not. Soon he got another horse and then another. Pretty soon Bobbt Frankel was a success-winning a lot and making lots of money. It's probable that of a boyhood group of professors and doctors and lawyers and makers of money, Bobby Frankel makes more money than any of them. Mr. Lipton would not believe it. He would ask me to explain.
So I come to the track to see Frankel. It is very early in the morning and out on the track horses are being breezed. Lazaro Barrera, the great Cuban-born trainer, comes by. He is just out of the hospital from heart surgery. Everyone comes to greet him and shake his hand.
In total purses, but not in winnings, he is ahead of Bobby Frankel. Barrera is gray-hared, courtly, dressed in a sports jacket. He looks like someone important. He looks like a trainer. He and Frankel shake hands. Champ and challenger, challenger in dungarees and orange windbreaker.
We walk along and I ask about being a trainer. Frankel explains. He bills his owners $35 a day for each horse. He owns some horses himself and trains a lot of them, taking them from other trainers and then improving them. He is, apparently, very good at what he does. This year alone his horses have won $600.000 in purses.
"What's your take?" I ask. "Ten percent," he says.
We are standing at the rail, the horses galloping by. A trainer comes by and mentions the Derby.
"Have you ever had a horse in the Derby?"
Frankel shakes his head no. "I could've," he says, "but I didn't do it."
"When I do it, I want to win."
It was probably always this way, Mr. Lipton. Bobby Frankel hates to lose.