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 $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 demeanor 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.
Anderson added, "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 the nation's leading trainer and five overall. His biggest client since the 1990s was Khalid Abdullah-owned Juddmonte Farms.
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 after years of trying.
"This is probably the biggest thrill in racing for me," he said.
Frankel had twice before finished second in the Belmont, including 2002 when Medaglia d'Oro was beaten by a half-length by 70-1 shot Sarava. In 2000, he failed when Aptitude was second in the Derby and the Belmont.
Frankel enjoyed needling his rivals, including Baffert, who had his own run of success leading the nation's trainers in money won.
"I ran into him at Saratoga, and he told me, 'I'm gonna get cha,'" Baffert said, imitating Frankel's accent, "and he caught me."
Frankel trained six Breeders' Cup winners, including 2004 Classic winner and Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and ranked second to Lukas in career Breeders' Cup earnings.
His last Breeders' Cup win came with Ventura in the 2008 Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita, with Frankel on hand to watch. Ventura finished second in this year's race on Nov. 6 at the same track, with Frankel listed as the trainer although he was too ill to attend.
"His outstanding horsemanship, coupled with a keen insight into the game, made him a force in the sport for the last 40 years," said Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. "His immense talent, and his abiding love for his horses, will be sorely missed."
Frankel was well regarded for his success with turf horses, including Eclipse Award winners Possibly Perfect, Wandesta, Ryafan, Intercontinental and Leroidesanimaux. He was an astute handicapper, always picking the most favorable spots to enter horses.
Despite his illness, he had continued success this year, with longtime assistant Humberto Ascanio saddling Frankel's horses to victories in 13 stakes races.
Born Robert J. Frankel on July 9, 1941, he split his time between New York and California, where he first moved in 1972. He won a record 60 races at Hollywood Park in Inglewood that year on the way to his first of 30 training titles nationwide.
He won 28 races worth $1 million or more in his career, including a record six wins in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Frankel was the career leader in victories among trainers at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita.
"It came easy to him. He was a very gifted horseman," Baffert said. "He left a huge stamp on racing. He'll always be remembered."
Frankel was a mentor to trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., who saddled Big Brown to victories in last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The horse lost his Triple Crown bid in the Belmont, when he finished last.
"I used to love it when I would do something good, I would call Bobby first and say, 'Bobby, did you see that?'" Dutrow said Monday from New York. "When I didn't know what to do, he would be the first guy to call."
Dutrow said he introduced Frankel to Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre. The two became close friends and were partners in owning some horses.
Frankel loved dogs and often brought them to the barn. He named his Australian sheep dogs Ginger and Punch after Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner Ginger Punch, whom he trained. Anderson said Frankel left the hospital because "he wanted to go home and see the dogs one more time."
Frankel is survived by his daughter, Bethenny, who has appeared on the Bravo reality series "Real Housewives of New York City." He was twice divorced.
A service was planned for Tuesday at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
AP Sports Writer Richard Rosenblatt in New York contributed to this report.