What does it take to make Bobby Frankel cry?
One of his best, and favorite, fillies winning a Grade I in her last race, and coming home safe.
In the fall of 2004, my nascent interest in horse racing was burgeoning; it had been the summer of Afleet Alex at Saratoga, and for the first time, I was paying attention to racing year-round. Bobby Frankel was one of the trainers who had caught my interest, perhaps because I’d been at Ghostzapper’s Vosburgh the year before.
That 2004 Beldame featured an extraordinary, and alliterative, trio of fillies and mares. Sightseek, the 2003 winner of the race, came back to defend her title; Storm Flag Flying, the 2002 champion juvenile filly, entered; and the three-year-old Society Selection took on her elders. Board Elligible and Nevermore rounded out the small field.
By October 2004, those three fillies/mares had collected twelve Grade I’s among them, along with various other stakes races. This was the year that Society Selection beat Ashado in the Alabama, but Sightseek’s dominance sent Frankel’s filly to the post as the 1 – 5 favorite, with Society Selection the third choice at 9 – 2.
The Beldame was not the most exciting of races that year, but it is awesome for the sheer dominance of Sightseek. She got away on the lead and nearly crawled around Belmont’s big oval, setting fractions of 24.4 and 48.2 before hitting the wire in the mile and an eighth race in 1:49.3. Sightseek finished nearly three lengths ahead of Society Selection, and it was a length and a quarter back to Storm Flag Flying. As Sightseek came to the finish line, Tom Durkin added his own sibilance to that already in the race: “And Sightseek says, ‘So long!’”
I remember reading various accounts of Sightseek’s win in this race, and I’ve never gotten over the descriptions of Frankel’s reaction after the race. From Jason Diamos in the New York Times:
Bobby Frankel’s eyes misted up in the winner’s circle at Belmont Park yesterday
after Sightseek, the mare Frankel said was the best he had ever trained,
finished her career with a dominating victory in the Beldame Stakes.
Sightseek ran her record at Belmont to 6 for 6 with a
two-and-three-quarters-length victory over Society Selection.
“I wanted her to win and go out on top,” Frankel said, wiping away tears.
And from the Blood-Horse, from a NYRA report:
“I worried about her,” said winning trainer Bobby Frankel, failing to hold back
tears. “She’s going home safely. I wanted her to win and go out on top. I said
months ago that this was going to be her last race. The Juddmonte people
questioned me about it, but I told them I wanted this to be it.”
I remember being moved by his words, touched that this tough, veteran trainer had the same concerns that I as a fan had: that they would all come home safely, that they would all be OK. And that image of him, after that spectacular victory, moved to tears by his filly, comes to mind every time I read some hysterical rant about greedy owners and trainers, about horsemen who don’t care about their horses.
Frankel returns to the Beldame this weekend with Ginger Punch, a mare who’s got to rival Sightseek for her trainer’s affection. Ginger Punch finished third in this race last year, and fans will get to see a rematch with Lemon Drop Mom, with whom Ginger Punch dueled to the finish line last month in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga. I don’t know whether a Ginger Punch victory will bring Frankel to tears, but in 2004, Sightseek won the Beldame for the second year in a row, and I’ll bet that if Ginger Punch takes a second consecutive Breeders’ Cup race in the Filly and Mare Classic, we might just see a grown man cry.
Sightseek’s 2004 Beldame: