Trainer Bobby Frankel is taking all of the guesswork out of Southern California stakes races. On any given Saturday or Sunday during the current winter meeting at Santa Anita Park, you'll know where to find him--in the winner's circle following the day's most important race. After an incredible 2001 that he capped with an Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding conditioner, Frankel is even hotter this winter. He started on the meet's opening day with Mizzen Mast winning the Malibu Stakes (gr. I). Then came victories in the Charles H. Strub Stakes (gr. II, Mizzen Mast again), the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II, Labamta Babe), the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I, Milwaukee Brew), and the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I, You). And that was just on dirt. On March 17, he added another graded stakes to his impressive list of victories and may have come up with a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) contender to boot. Frankel pulled off another stunner, this time winning the grade II, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, the major preview to the West Coast's top race for 3-year-olds, the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). In an untypical scenario, Frankel did it with an inexperienced newcomer, Medaglia d'Oro, a substitute for the injured Labamta Babe purchased only three weeks ago by Edmund A. Gann, who owns Labamta Babe as well. Medaglia d'Oro outdueled U S S Tinosa down the stretch to triumph by 2 1/2 lengths after putting away the 2-5 Siphonic, who finished third, six lengths behind the winner. There's no question that this $19 Frankel upset has thrown the California route to this year's Kentucky Derby into disarray. Medaglia d'Oro came into the race with only a maiden victory at Oaklawn Park to show from two career starts. The Kentucky-bred son of El Prado was making his first attempt beyond six furlongs. After the race, Frankel said Medaglia d'Oro would not go to the Santa Anita Derby because he isn't nominated, but would instead point to either the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland on April 13 or the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct the same day. He said he would make him a late nominee to the Triple Crown by the March 30 deadline. "Mr. Gann says to get him to the Derby," Frankel said. "He keeps putting up the money and I keep training his horses." A happy Gann said, "There's a limit to that, you know. He thinks I'm one of those sheikh guys or something." Frankel credited former trainer Mark Reid of New York with locating Medaglia d'Oro, who was purchased for an undisclosed amount from breeders Joyce and Albert Bell. "That guy has picked out some wild horses for me," Frankel said. "He's three for four. He picked out You, Labamta Babe, and this one." Frankel also lauded his 55-year-old jockey, Laffit Pincay Jr., for the patient handling he gave Medaglia d'Oro, and said he would retain the mount. Pincay, notching his fifth San Felipe victory, first won the race in 1967 with Rising Market. "I told Laffit in the paddock to try to get the lead but not to kill him doing it," Frankel said. "He said that when he came to him around the turn, being a young horse, he backed off of him. He's a big, big horse and he's easy to train. He outgamed them down the stretch." Setting quick early fractions from the rail of :23.13, :46.87, and 1:10.75, the dark bay was stalked throughout by Siphonic in the middle and U S S Tinosa three-wide on the outside. By the far turn, it looked as if Medaglia d'Oro was ready to throw in the towel. He fell two full lengths behind Siphonic, who was moving comfortably into the stretch and appeared to have things his way. But Siphonic couldn't shake U S S Tinosa in the lane, and in the meantime, Medaglia d'Oro rallied again up the rail. Frankel's newest stakes winner drew off from U S S Tinosa, who had passed the fading Siphonic. "I let (Siphonic) go (to the lead)," Pincay said. "I took my time and I hoped for the best. Sure enough, I got through on the rail and he finished very well, like a very good horse. The good thing is, he still has got a lot of room to improve. He might be a really top horse." The final time was 1:41.95. U S S Tinosa finished second, 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Siphonic. The others--Tracemark; the Bob Baffert-trained Puerto Banus; and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt, Shah Jehan, a $4.4-million Keeneland sale purchase by Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor--all raced closely in the early stages, but did not factor in the finish. The San Felipe proved to be the second straight perplexing performance for Siphonic, thought to be one of the leading Kentucky Derby contenders after his smashing win in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) in December. But unlike his second-place finish in the Santa Catalina at 1-10 two months ago when he was fractious in the paddock and came out of the gate almost on his knees, he apparently had no excuses. "Disappointing," is how jockey Jerry Bailey described the effort. "I couldn't really say he was bothered by the pressure on the lead because the horse who beat him was the one putting the pressure on. "He broke well, felt good, and I had him in a comfortable position," he added. "He made the lead going pretty easily on the far turn. Turning for home, I thought I had a lot of horse. I really thought he would have a kick, but he had nothing. I couldn't say he was fatigued, though. He might have bled. When things like this happen, you think about what you might have done differently as a rider, but in this case, I don't think there was anything I could have done." Siphonic's trainer, David Hofmans, had expected a top effort from his colt. Afterward, he wasn't sure what to make of the race. "I think he just got tired," he said. "He was rubber-legged and just didn't finish. We'll scope him to see if anything went wrong, and re-evaluate where we're going to go from here." Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer of U S S Tinosa, said he was satisfied with how the race strategy played out. "He ran very well." Hollendorfer said he's considering the Santa Anita Derby for U S S Tinosa, but added, "We've got him nominated all over, so we'll see." With San Rafael Stakes winner Came Home considered a question mark for the April 6 race, the Santa Anita Derby could come down to a rematch of the El Camino Real Derby's first two finishers: the Hollendorfer-trained Yougottawanna and Baffert's Danthebluegrassman. That is, of course, unless Frankel shows up with someone new.
San Luis Red
One race Frankel didn't win was the March 16 San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT). The 1 1/2-mile grass contest worth $250,000 went to California-bred Continental Red, who defeated the mare, Keemoon, by a nose in a furious three-way finish. Frankel's even-money favorite, Denon, was trapped behind a wall of horses and failed to sustain his drive while traveling wide into the stretch, finishing fifth. Continental Red, trained by Ian Jory and ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, who posted his biggest victory since launching a comeback bid in January, paid $7.80. The 6-year-old chestnut horse, owned and bred by Sharon and Weston Fitzpatrick, is by Flying Continental. The victory was worth $150,000 to his owners. The winning time was 2:26.81. Continental Red stalked the pacesetter, 58-1 longshot Speedy Pick, to the stretch, then surged between the leader and Keemoon, who had moved up on the outside after bobbling at the break, and the three of them battled to the wire. Keemoon, ridden by Alex Solis and trained by Neil Drysdale, finished a head in front of Speedy Pick, conditioned by Martin Jones with Brice Blanc aboard. Jory said Continental Red is likely to next go in the 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IT) at Santa Anita April 21.(Chart, Equibase)