LOS ANGELES -- Bobby Frankel possessed a gift for coaxing top performances out of ornery, high-strung thoroughbreds, a gruff Hall of Fame trainer who was hard in his dealings with humans but gentle with the animals in his barn.
Frankel died of cancer Monday at his home in Pacific Palisades, jockey agent Ron Anderson said. He was 68.
Frankel had been running his stable by phone for most of the year while undergoing treatment and concealing details of his illness from most of his colleagues, a remarkable feat in an industry fueled by gossip.
"He was a secretive guy," Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said from Santa Anita. "He's from the old school of training -- nobody needs to know your business."
Frankel began his career at Belmont Park and Aqueduct in New York, one of the cheap hired hands who walk horses around the barn after morning workouts. He took out his trainer's license in 1966 and won his first race with Double Dash at Aqueduct that November.
He built an early reputation as "King of the Claimers," taking the cheapest horses and turning them into high-priced stakes winners.
Frankel saddled 3,654 winners and earned US$227,949,775 during his 43-year career, according to Equibase. He was second only to D. Wayne Lukas in money won, and they were the only trainers to earn more than $200 million.
The Brooklyn-born Frankel oversaw a coast-to-coast string of horses, never losing his New York accent or brusque demeanour that came off as intimidating to most who sought him around the barn.
"He wasn't a good people person when he was plying his trade," said retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye, who rode for Frankel. "If you didn't know him, he could be a jerk. You had to know him off the track. He was very gracious, but he wouldn't let everybody know that."
Frankel revealed a softer side only among his animals and close friends.
"Once you got him by himself, he was a lot of fun to be around," Baffert said.
Added Anderson: "He was a very kindhearted person that had people that worked for him for 20, 30 years, which is almost unheard of around the racetrack."
Frankel enjoyed his greatest success this decade, winning four consecutive Eclipse Awards (2000-03) as American racing's leading trainer and five overall. His biggest client since the 1990s was Khalid Abdullah-owned Juddmonte Farms.
Frankel was a part of history Sept. 20 when Ventura, a horse he trained, became the first filly to win the $1-million Woodbine Mile. It was the third Mile win for Frankel, who also trained Riviera (2000) and Leroidesanimaux (2005), tying him with Neil Drysdale for most Mile victories.
Besides Empire Maker, other winning horses Frankel trained for Juddmonte included Aptitude, Intercontinental, First Defence, Sightseek and Ventura.
"He was brilliant," Juddmonte manager Garrett O'Rourke said from Lexington, Ky. "It's the end of an era, isn't it?"
Frankel, fiercely competitive and supremely confident, struck some as arrogant, especially during Belmont Stakes week in 2003.
Funny Cide was bidding to complete racing's first Triple Crown since 1978 after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Empire Maker was bothered by a foot injury and had finished second in the Derby.
"You could have 10 really clued-in people giving him advice. He always listened and he loved it," O'Rourke said. "Then he'd turn away and say, 'That all makes sense, but we're doing this.' And if that statement was accompanied by a smirk, then you were loaded for bear. That's the way he felt coming into the Belmont."
Frankel believed his horse could handle the grueling 1 1/2 miles and he relished the idea of spoiling Funny Cide's Triple Crown coronation.
"I hope everybody hates me after the race," he said. "Then I'll know I did well."
Empire Maker won by three-quarters of a length, giving Frankel his only victory in a Triple Crown race.
-- The Associated Press