When Santa Anita officials were scouting about for a stakes event to name after the late Bobby Frankel, they could hardly have found a better fit than the San Gorgonio Handicap, a race the Hall of Fame trainer won a record eight times in his illustrious career.
Frankel, who died following a valiant fight against lymphoma at the age of 68 on Nov. 16, 2009, dominated the San Gorgonio, for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, during a career that saw him win more races, 917, than any other trainer in Santa Anita history. He also ranks second to the late Charlie Whittingham on the track's career stakes victory list with 146.
And the esteemed conditioner would no doubt be looking forward to winning the inaugural $150,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes (gr. IIT), which drew a compact field of five to the Santa Anita grass course Jan. 1. The race is the third on the program with a 1:31 p.m. PST probable start.
Though small, the field includes a pair of grade I winners in 2010, Eclair de Lune and Harmonious. Both are seeking to rebound after unplaced efforts in the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. They will each shoulder top weight of 123 pounds, spotting their other rivals five pounds apiece.
Trainer Ron McAnally, a fellow Hall of Fame member, would get great satisfaction in winning the first race named for his longtime friend. He saddles Beverly D. (gr. IT) winner Éclair de Lune for owner Richard Duchossois.
“I would love to win it, just for (Frankel),” said McAnally. “We were dear friends for many, many years. We stabled together and swapped ideas together. Bobby believed in the power of positive thinking, no question. He felt he was going to win every race that they ever ran.
“Bobby was like a piece of hard candy. A lot of people didn’t like him because they only saw his tough side. He was hard on the outside, but soft on the inside.”
In winning the Beverly D. at Arlington Park Aug. 21, Éclair de Lune scored the biggest triumph of her career for Duchossois, who is chairman of the Illinois track, in a race named for his late wife. The the soon-to-be 5-year-old German-bred daughter of Marchand de Sable won the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D. by 1 1/2 lengths after pressing the pace and taking over in the lane.
She employed similar tactics in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, but the 11-furlong distance proved to be a bit too much. After advancing to within a head of the lead mid-stretch, Éclair de Lune backed up in the final furlong and finished sixth, two lengths behind the victorious Shared Account.
Éclair de Lune, who began her career in France, has three wins in 11 lifetime starts and leads the Frankel field in earnings with $547,843. She will break from post 3 with Rafael Bejarano aboard for the first time. Éclair de Lune has raced twice on the Santa Anita turf, including a fourth-place effort in the Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT) in April.
Harmonious, a homebred daughter of Dynaformer owned by Pam, Marty, and Emily Wygod and trained by John Shirreffs, is to make her first start as a 4-year-old in the Frankel. She won both the American Oaks (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park and Keeneland's Queen Elizabeth II Cup (gr. IT) during the second half of the 2010 season.
In the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, her first stakes try against older horses, she was roughed up a bit and faded to 10th in the stretch after being bumped. She won four of seven starts in 2010, her only season to date, and earned $502,420.
Joel Rosario retains the mount on Harmonious, who breaks from the outside post in her Santa Anita debut for Shirreffs.
Go Forth North comes into the race off a third-place showing in the Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park Nov. 26. Trained by A.C. Avila for owners L-Bo Racing and partners, she captured Oak Tree's Harold C. Ramser (gr. IIIT) on the Hollywood lawn prior to that.
The Kentucky-bred daughter of North Light had a busy 3-year-old campaign in 2010, recording a 3-2-2 record in nine starts with earnings of nearly $200,000. In her only prior start on the Santa Anita turf, she finished fourth in a one-mile maiden test in March. David Flores has the call once more on Go Forth North, who breaks from the rail.
Irish-bred Spring Style, from the Ben Cecil barn, is seeking her first stakes win. In her most recent start, the Pivotal mare won a conditional allowance Nov. 19 over one mile at Hollywood.
Powerofvoodoo is a supplemental entrant for trainer/owner Barry Abrams. Edwin Maldonado-Alicea has the riding assignment.
$150,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 3, 1:31 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Go Forth North (KY), D R Flores, 118, A C Avila
2. Powerofvoodoo (CA), E Maldonado-Alicea, 118, B Abrams
3. Eclair de Lune (GER), R Bejarano, 123, R L McAnally
4. Spring Style (IRE), G K Gomez, 118, B D Cecil
5. Harmonious (KY), J Rosario, 123, J A Shirreffs