Even in the midst of his grief, owner Ken Ramsey had no trouble zeroing in on what made Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel special.
"He's probably the greatest trainer I've known," Ramsey said. "He was not only the greatest trainer I've known, but he was a loyal and trusted friend."
On Monday, Mr. Frankel — a five-time Eclipse Award winner for outstanding trainer — died at his home in California after a long battle with cancer. He was 68.
Known as one of the most astute horsemen in the game, Mr. Frankel was a self-made success, rising from the ranks of a hot walker in the mid-1960s to one of the most accomplished trainers ever to grace the sport.
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Mr. Frankel — who had been absent from the track for much of this year while battling his illness — used his renowned patience and intuition with his horses to condition 10 champions. He earned more than 170 Grade I wins and 3,654 victories and won more than $227 million in purses, second only to D. Wayne Lukas all-time.
Champions trained by Mr. Frankel include Squirtle Squirt, Aldebaran, Possibly Perfect, Wandesta, Ryafan, Intercontinental, Leroidesanimaux, Bertrando, Ginger Punch and Ghostzapper, the 2004 Horse of the Year.
"He had a passion for the sport, and he had a real —genuine love for the horses, which I think is reflected in how they performed for him," said Jack Brothers, bloodstock adviser for Frank Stronach's Adena Springs, which bred Ghostzapper and Ginger Punch and campaigned the two under the Stronach Stables banner. "I think he had almost a sixth sense when it came to the horses in his care. He had tremendous patience, and ... there was no type of horse he couldn't train."
Mr. Frankel, born in Brooklyn, began training in New York in 1966 and established his career as the "King of the Claimers" by taking lower-level racehorses and developing them into stakes winners.
He moved to California in 1972 and won a record 60 races at Hollywood Park that season to earn the first of his 30 career training titles, including a record six at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.
"He was great to his horses and great to his help," said fellow Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. "He went from the bottom rung of racing all the way to the top, which is a mark not only of him as a horseman, but as a person."
Though Mr. Frankel had top clients such as Ed Gann, Jerry Moss, Bert Firestone and Stavros Niarchos, his career reached a new level in 1990 when he began his affiliation with Juddmonte Farm owner Prince Khalid Abdullah.
Juddmonte's regally bred horses helped give Mr. Frankel some of his most memorable victories, including the 2003 Belmont Stakes with Empire Maker, his lone win in a Triple Crown race.
Mr. Frankel also trained five Grade I winners out of Juddmonte's 2006 Broodmare of the Year, Hasili, including Champs Elysees, who recorded Mr. Frankel's final Grade I victory, the Canadian International at Woodbine on Oct. 17.
Inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in 1995, Mr. Frankel also conditioned six Breeders' Cup winners — the last being 2008 Filly & Mare Sprint victor Ventura, who finished second in the race this year.
In 2003, the year he earned his fifth Eclipse Award, Mr. Frankel established all-time single-season records with $19.1 million in purse earnings and 25 Grade I wins.
"He proved you don't have to grow up on a farm or be somebody's kid to make it," said trainer Chad Brown, who worked for Mr. Frankel for two years in California and who is now based at Belmont Park. "Trainers come and go, but here's a guy who won at the highest level decade after decade. And as a horseman, a trainer and a human being, he was so caring about his horses and his help. There's never going to be another Bobby Frankel."
Though he could be quick to flash his temper, Mr. Frankel was most sentimental about the animals that touched his heart.
In 2007, when his top mare, Ginger Punch, was set to win that year's Breeders' Cup Distaff en route to her divisional championship, Mr. Frankel famously missed the event at Monmouth Park to tend to his ailing Australian Shepherd, Happy.
"The emotion he showed over that dog and his horses showed what a true, kind and generous man he was," said Ramsey, who owned Grade I winners Precious Kitten and Nothing to Lose, both trained by Frankel. "I'll miss him, I'll miss his friendship.
"He was somebody where, if he liked you, he would do anything for you."
Mr. Frankel is survived by his daughter, Bethenny, 39, who stars in the television series Real Housewives of New York.
A memorial service for Mr. Frankel will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.