Bobby Frankel will never be mistaken for a Texan. The Hall of Fame trainer, who's based in California but originates from New York, is streetwise glib and Rodeo Drive sophisticated. The imagination can't strain enough to see him in cowboy boots or in one of those broad-brimmed Stetsons. But give him time.
In two trips to Texas, Frankel twice has won the Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star Park, the first being two years ago with Martiniquais and the most recent coming on June 16 with El Gran Papa. The only two other horses trained by Frankel that ever raced at Lone Star finished third. But they raced in their trainer's absence.
And so as he stood in the winner's circle with El Gran Papa and realized he was unbeaten while in Texas, Frankel said he wished he had come here last year to saddle Northern Quest in the same race. Yes, just give him time.
The $300,000 Dallas Turf Cup, the richest turf race in Texas, has quickly become a significant event. The eight horses in this year's field had earned more than $2.9 million or an average of $364,963. In addition to El Gran Papa, the race lured Kerrygold away from California; he had won the San Marino Stakes at Santa Anita. From Kentucky came Vergennes, a multiple stakes winner of $726,974. And from the New York-based barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott came the Turf Cup's favorite: Del Mar Show. He had won four consecutive races, including three stakes. A regular Charles Kurault, Del Mar Show had raced on nine courses in his 11-race career.
Vergennes and Dignitas Dancer led the field through the opening half in a moderate :48.09. When Vergennes surrendered the lead, Dignitas Dancer, a 26-1 longshot, assumed control and threatened to pull off a mighty upset. Nat's Big Party rallied inside, Kerrygold moved menacingly on the outside, and Del Mar Show went through a seam. Everybody was converging on the wire, and on the far outside El Gran Papa began to charge like a marauder.
In mid-stretch, he was still seventh. But then suddenly he lowered his body and reached for the wire, surging past horses in the final furlong and winning by the length of his outstretched neck over the longshot. Nat's Big Party finished third, another three-quarters of a length back, with Del Mar Show, the even-money favorite, fourth. Five lengths separated the entire field.
"Around the (second) turn, when I swung him out, everyone kept fanning out," explained winning jockey Garrett Gomez. "I had to keep altering course all down the lane, and in the last 80 yards, he finally saw what he had to run at. Then he hit another gear. He did what he was supposed to do."
Running the 11*8 miles over the firm course in 1:49.30, El Gran Papa won a stakes race for the first time in his career. The 4-year-old son of El Gran Senor arrived in this country from Europe last October as a highly regarded prospect. But initially he failed to live up to his reputation. He finished third in the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT), sixth in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT), then seventh in the San Pasqual (gr. II). Frankel explained the handsome colt was disappointing, but the recent addition of blinkers seemed to get him focused.
Del Mar Show had no excuse, according to his jockey Robbie Davis, unless the diminutive traveler didn't handle the Texas heat.
A claim of foul by Bobby Walker Jr. on Gold Nugget, who finished eighth, against Nat's Big Party, was not allowed.
With the victory, El Gran Papa earned $180,000 for his owners, Tom Tatham and his sons, Casey and Glenn, whose horses race under the name of the Oak Cliff Stable. In 1986, the Tathams won the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) with Skywalker.
Following the race, the elder Tatham rushed upstairs to Lone Star's Silks Dining Room to place his order. It was a rather odd order, but chef Jake Duplantis nevertheless was eager to accommodate the visitor from Houston. And so within a few minutes, a waiter delivered to Tatham's table a bag of carrots.
"I'm going back to the barn," Tatham explained, "to take care of business. It's celebration time for El Gran Papa."
The victory improved El Gran Papa's worksheet to five victories from 18 starts, with earnings of $390,813. He'll probably make his next start, Tatham explained, in California, possibly at Del Mar, where more carrots will be available.