‘The Most Wonderful Time’: Santa Anita Remembers Bobby Frankel On Saturday

Google Bobby Frankel and it comes up “American horse trainer,” but he was much more than that. Infinitely more.

Irascible, cantankerous, gruff would seem to fit his exterior demeanor, but deep down, in crunch time, when push came to shove, Frankel’s best side came to the fore. He was humane.

Take it from Marcelo Polanco, a third generation horseman who learned the ropes under Frankel for a year and a half circa 1991-93 when the Hall of Fame trainer was in his prime.

Frankel, for whom Saturday’s Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes at Santa Anita is named, died at the age of 68 on Nov. 16, 2009. Hard to believe he’s been gone for 10 years.

“It was the most wonderful time,” the 59-year-old Polanco recalled Friday morning. “We had horses for Juddmonte Farms, Jerry Moss, and Bobby would send me to other tracks when we ran in stakes, so I was on the road frequently. He sent me to Louisiana Downs for the turf festival, and of the six horses we ran, five won. I went to Hawthorne with Marquetry for a $500,000 race and it was very cold, and he used to call me every day with four questions, always very quick: “’How’s the horse?’ Fine. ‘Temperature?” No. ‘How’s he eating?’ Good. ‘How’s the weather?’ Super cold.

“I said, ‘What do I do?’ He said, ‘Walk him.’ This was five days before the race. Next day, same conversation. Finally, the day before the race I opened my mouth and asked him, ‘Do you want me to walk the horse before the race?’ and he said, ‘Listen, the horse has been running all year, he’s got all his conditioning, do you want to get him sick?’

“The horse won super easy that day and I still have the picture.”

Polanco, a trainer in his own right, is a native of Santiago, Chile, the country where his grandfather, Pedro, won the Chilean Triple Crown circa 1912. Marcelo was assistant to Julio Canani for 6 ½ years before joining Frankel with Dan Ward and Humberto Ascanio. Prior to that, he served with Ron McAnally, but his time with Frankel understandably remains indelible.

“He was a great guy,” Polanco said.

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