Bobby Frankel sat at the far end of the dais during the draw Wednesday for the Belmont Stakes, nearly obscured by a bank of cameras, baseball cap brim pulled down low. When the gathering adjourned, he attempted to slip out quietly amid the commotion before a group of reporters corralled and pinned him for questioning.
While it might not be possible for such a high-profile trainer to completely disappear into the blurry backdrop of Smarty Jones's bid to win the Triple Crown, Frankel's giving it his best. Which is often when he is at his most dangerous.
"I'd love to win, but, realistically, I don't think I can," Frankel said of his Belmont horse, Master David, who has been dismissed in the morning line at odds of 20-1. "Hopefully, he can run a good race."
Frankel, 62, who was born in Brooklyn and lives in Pacific Palisades, Calif., has a history of saying this sort of thing. In 2002, he told the crowd at the Belmont draw that after wanting and failing to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Medaglia d'Oro, he hoped only to see the horse run a good race.
Medaglia d'Oro, practically ignored at 16-1, forged his way to the lead in the Belmont after a mile only to lose by a half-length to Sarava, who at 70-1 was the longest priced winner in the race's history.
Last spring, Frankel said his 3-year-old Peace Rules was a turf horse before the colt blew away the field on the dirt in the Louisiana Derby at odds of 9-1.
Frankel, who has developed six Eclipse Award winning champions in his career, was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1995 -- five years before he ran his first horse in the Belmont Stakes.
In the third leg of the Triple Crown, he has been deadly efficient, finishing second with Aptitude in 2000, second again two years later with Medaglia d'Oro, and winning it last year with Empire Maker, who crushed Funny Cide's Triple Crown attempt.
"I hope I'm viewed as a villain again; it doesn't bother me," Frankel said. "I walked into a restaurant last year [after the Belmont] and someone said, 'There's the enemy.' "
Throughout the 2003 Triple Crown campaign, many observers -- including Frankel -- considered Empire Maker a better horse than Funny Cide. No such pretensions can be made on behalf of Master David, who outside of a minor stakes victory at Santa Anita Park in February, has put together a career marked by disappointment.
In the Wood Memorial on April 10, Master David found an opening along the rail, reached the lead, then was beaten a half-length by Tapit. He went on to the Kentucky Derby where he was bumped early and squeezed between horses after a half-mile before disintegrating and finishing 12th, 181/2 lengths behind Smarty Jones.
The colt returned in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 22 and raced uncharacteristically far back -- last in a field of 10 -- before closing with a rush for third.
After typical waffling, Frankel said he decided to run Master David in the Belmont after Alan Jerkens, another Hall of Fame trainer, said the horse he liked in the race wasn't even running.
"He said, 'If I had that horse, I'd work him long and run him,' " Frankel said. "So, I went out and worked him long and am running him."
Jerkens laughed when he heard Frankel had told that story.
"We were kidding around," said Jerkens, nicknamed "The Giant Killer" because he twice saddled horses that beat Secretariat. "We were just yakking about how different things were years ago. Today horses breeze five furlongs. They used to breeze a mile and a half."
Jerkens liked the fact that Frankel didn't appear intimidated by Smarty Jones. "He's not getting as rattled as the average person would. If it comes up the horse doesn't fire his best race, that's how great horses get beat."
Jockey Alex Solis, who rode Master David in his past four races, will take the mount aboard Rock Hard Ten in the Belmont. To replace him, Frankel has gone out and enlisted Jose Santos, who rode Funny Cide last year.
Santos, who rode Master David once when the colt was a 2-year-old, worked him six furlongs in 1 minute 13 seconds at Belmont on Sunday, the best workout of the day at the distance.
"The clocker said it's the best he ever worked," said Santos, who likes the incentive he has to win Saturday.
"I spoiled one [Belmont] with Lemon Drop Kid, who beat Charismatic [in 1999], and I'm riding Saturday for the guy who beat me with Funny Cide," he said. "It's going to be tough to beat Smarty Jones . . . but you never know with Bobby."
Frankel likes to keep 'em guessing. With Empire Maker last year, he announced the horse would run in several different Belmont prep races -- even going as far to enter the Jersey Derby the week before. He shrugs when asked if Master David is lying in wait to upset Smarty Jones.
"I've got stories to tell you -- over the years I've won when I didn't think I had a chance," he said. "I've had owners force me to run when I didn't want to saddle them and won. I'm going to tell the jockey to forget Smarty Jones is in the race and just run for second."