Ventura will run in Humberto Ascanio's name in the Matriarch (gr. IT).

Ventura will run in Humberto Ascanio's name in the Matriarch (gr. IT).

Anne M. Eberhardt

Juddmonte Adjusts to Life Without Frankel

Bobby Frankel, who died Nov. 16, was the longtime trainer for Juddmonte.

The 15 Juddmonte Farms horses still in training at Hollywood Park will remain in Bobby Frankel’s barn under the care of longtime assistant Humberto Ascanio until a course of action is decided upon by Prince Khalid Abdullah and racing manager Garrett O’Rourke.


“We’ve had discussions, but there has been no concrete decision yet,” O’Rourke said Nov 20. “Humberto has control of everything, and Ventura will run in his name in the Matriarch (gr. IT) as will any other runners we have the next few weeks. Discussions are ongoing and we are aware that we have to make a decision. But it was the Prince’s express wishes that we didn’t even have a conversation about it while Bobby was still alive.


“On a few occasions, Bobby said, ‘Look, why don’t you give them to somebody else,’ but he was aware of the Prince’s wishes. Sometimes, I felt maybe it was too much of a burden on him, but I do think he enjoyed at least being part of Breeders’ Cup day, even though we were all sad Ventura couldn’t pull it off.”


Frankel died of leukemia Nov. 16 at his California home.


O’Rourke said the Belmont barn has been closed down, with most of the horses being sent to the farm for a rest. Frankel’s other longtime assistant, Ruben Loza, has joined Ascanio at Hollywood Park, while assistant and exercise rider Jose Cuevas likely will head for Florida.


“We’ve thinned everything down,” O’Rourke said. “We obviously were aware of what was happening, and we took a lot of the horses to the farm and didn’t bring as many horses over from Europe as we normally would do around this time of year. Whereas we would have in the range of 40 horses, we now have about 25 until we figure out what we’re going to do.”


Whether Ascanio keeps most of the horses or they are sent to another trainer or trainers, there will be some very big shoes to fill.


“The Prince said he realizes everyone is asking what we are going to do, and that there are a lot of trainers who would love to take over the horses, but he’s not expecting anybody to fill Bobby’s shoes,” O’Rourke said. “He obviously was an exceptional trainer and a unique personality as well. And there was a very strong fondness we developed for him. A lot of us were confused why we became so fond of the cranky old devil; we never could figure that out. I know my wife never quite figured it out, but she never saw him in the same light we saw him in.


“We may not ever achieve the level of success we enjoyed with Bobby all these years, but he’d be the first person to say, ‘Come on, life goes on.’


“I was laughing at the services the other day. There were about four or five us standing around in a circle and some lady came up to us and said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t Bobby have loved this?’ And we all laughed, because we all had the exact same thought: ‘He probably wouldn’t have showed up.’”


O’Rourke recalls those final heart-breaking moments talking to Frankel. As sad and as gut-wrenching as they were, he always will remember fondly how Frankel remained true to himself even in the face of death.


“Last Friday (Nov. 13), Bobby called me while I was at the barn and told me, ‘I’m going home tomorrow. I’m not going to take any more transfusions. I just don’t want to go on like this.’ And he said, ‘I’m scared.’


“There was a silence, and then, Bobby said, ‘Talk to Humberto and just tell him, two easy halfs for Ventura and she’ll be fine for the Matriarch.’


“That was Bobby, still training horses right up to the very end.”