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Cock of the walk in Dundalk

May 21, 1979
May 21, 1979

Table of Contents
May 21, 1979

Indy Qualifying
Football Scandal
Oakland
Cousineau
Baseball
Hockey
Horse Racing
Pro Basketball
Chinaglia
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Cock of the walk in Dundalk

Even the women in Marian Franklin's yoga class joined in the triumphant celebration for her son, the jockey

Judged merely by results, Ronnie Franklin didn't have the greatest of afternoons at Pimlico last Thursday. In the fifth race, on an even-money favorite, he had only finished fourth. In the ninth, he was even farther back in the pack. But afterward, in the jockeys' room, he was displaying one of his ear-to-ear grins. "Ain't this the real summer weather?" he said.

This is an article from the May 21, 1979 issue Original Layout

The grin was just barely visible; threatening to obscure it completely was the bouquet of carnations, black-eyed Susans and dahlias that he was clutching, and which extended from waist to chin. It had been ordered for him by some ladies in Denver. "Now, wasn't that real nice of them?" he asked.

Pretty much everything was real nice for Franklin last week in the short spell he would have to enjoy his homecoming before the pressures built up for Saturday's Preakness.

"I love being here," he said. "Not just people and friends. I love this race track, riding where I started. I love it. It's got a good bottom to it, solid. It's a little cuppy around the gate today; they could use a little water. But it's great on the rail. Don't trouble about those races today. I just didn't have enough horse to get home."

By now, bouquet and all, he was working through the people who wanted to shake his hand as he made his way across the ground-floor concourse to where his car was parked. The TV showed a payoff of $31,113.00 on the last triple. "Wouldn't you've liked to have three bucks on that, Ronnie?" a bystander called out.

"Nah," Franklin came back euphorically. "Three thousand!"

In the car, heading out to his parents' home in the Dundalk section of Baltimore, he sang along happily with the radio, "Every time I think of you...." Then, suddenly, "You know Mr. Driver—the principal of my old high school? He wrote to my mother. They want to have a Ronnie Franklin Day there." Considering that it was an all-too-noticeable lack of Ronnie Franklin days—attendancewise—that caused considerable friction toward the end of the young jockey's high school career (he left when he was in the 11th grade), this seemed handsome of Mr. Driver.

A few minutes later, the talk turned serious. After Franklin had ridden Spectacular Bid to victory in the Kentucky Derby, press comment had been mainly positive. But some critics claimed he didn't ride that well, that he had given up ground unnecessarily early in the race. "I didn't lose that much ground," he said. "I was only about two horses out. Maybe I could have been a little closer in, but my horse was on a good surface. You've got to find that good stuff. Didn't you see those other jocks' horses skipping and jumping?

"I knew where the good going was on the track. I'd studied it in those earlier races. Five or six feet out from the rail it was perfect—well, it was still a little cuppy, but it was better than closer in. My horse don't care too much what sort of a track he's on, but I thought it was good to take him out some, save him for the stretch run. I knew that he'd draw off and win."

A sign at the side of the road said, WELCOME TO DUNDALK, and Ronnie was once again-savoring the delights of being home after more than five months on the road—except for a week after the Florida Derby. "That's Golden Ring Mall," he pointed out with all the pride of a local Rotarian. "That's a big mall. Ain't it a nice place?"

Well, certainly Dundalk is by no means the grim place that has been described by those too diligently seeking out a rags-to-riches saga in the Franklin story. It is a well-tended, entirely respectable section, though it is clearly not affluent and most of the houses are small, as is the one on Ormand Road where Ronnie's parents have lived for 25 years.

The living room is beginning to fill up with trophies and photographs of Ronnie, the most prominent being an early one, a large, hand-crocheted portrait of his first winner—in fact, his first mount, Pioneer Pattie, that he rode at Bowie on Feb. 4, 1978. It is the work of his Aunt Marie Kulig, his father's sister, and Marian, Ronnie's mother, is quick to point out that this was the beginning of a penchant for the number four, which he rode under in the Kentucky Derby.

"His sister Carolyn was 24 that day [in 1978] and the horse paid $24.40," said Mrs. Franklin. "His sister Nancy was 21 on May 4, the day before the Derby." She searched around for some other remarkable fours to add to the collection, but Ronnie had remembered the bouquet from Denver and was bringing it in from the car. Before his mother could ask about the flowers, Ronnie was halfway out of the house again, on his way to Merritt Beach, close to home, where his teenage crowd used to meet in the old days.

But he is no longer as free as he was then. "You have to be at the store by seven," his mother called after him. That evening he was committed to autograph pictures at a large department store in the neighborhood.

"You know," his mother said after he had left, "last year, when I saw Stevie Cauthen riding out to the start of the Derby, and they played My Old Kentucky Home, I sat there crying. I felt so good for the boy. I never dreamed that in a year it would be Ronnie."

Nor, indeed, that she would be sitting in a box close to the finish line at Churchill Downs. Tony, her husband, took time off from his job as a steelworker at American Can and they drove down. The nearest accommodations they could get were in Erlanger, Ky., 70 miles from the track, and it was midnight before they sat down to dinner after the race. Following the excitement of the win and the drinks in the Directors' Room, they found that they had no clear idea of where they had parked their car. It wasn't until 10 p.m. that they left Louisville.

Maybe for them, as it was for Ronnie, the homecoming was the best thing of all. The neighbors had readied their houses with signs, DUNDALK IS PROUD OF YOU, RON; COME ON, RON AND BID, ONE DOWN, TWO TO GO; WELCOME HOME, CHAMP!; and the like. When Mrs. Franklin got to her yoga class last week, the ladies greeted her with yet another placard, which read, BEHIND EVERY GREAT BOY IS A GREAT MOTHER! And, among much mail, there was a discreet note of congratulation from the local Cadillac dealer, who clearly felt that the Franklins were just about ready to move into his orbit.

Tony had had a call from the plant manager at American Can. Perhaps he and Marian would care to go out to dinner with a vice-president of the company when he came down to watch the Preakness?

Sudden glory. And there was more of it when the Franklins went out to dinner at a local restaurant that night. One after another, strangers approached them, some elaborately polite. "Pardon this intrusion," a lady said, "but we had to speak to you. We live right in this section."

"You have a nice boy," said another stranger. "Don't let Mr. Delp chastise him too much."

Mrs. Franklin laughed at the reference to Bud Delp, Spectacular Bid's trainer, but it did remind her of something that has caused her a good deal of unhappiness over the past few months—the assumption that her son had quit home to live as Delp's "third son," supposedly because the home his own parents could offer him was inadequate.

To be fair, this upsets Delp as much as it does Marian Franklin. Last week he said wearily, "This has all gone too far. I love Ronnie, but he's not my son. I've got two sons."

What Ronnie will tell you himself negates all the busybody notions. For instance, when he started to work at Pimlico for Delp, and before a room was arranged for him there, Tony Franklin would be up at 4:30 a.m. to drive his son to the track, and Marian Franklin would be there to get Ronnie home.

More than two years ago, when Ronnie was at the Middleburg, Va. Training Center where Delp had sent him along with a group of young horses, he called home on Thanksgiving Day. He wanted desperately to be home for dinner. Unquestioningly, Tony drove the 100 miles to Middleburg to pick him up, then drove him back that night.

Such examples could be multiplied many times. When he was 14, Ronnie went to Palo Alto, Calif. to stay with his uncle, Ray Franklin, who once built cars for Parnelli Jones. Ronnie liked it so much he asked his parents if he could stay and go to school there. That experiment lasted two months before he was on the road to Dundalk again. "He can only stay away from home so long," his mother says. "Then he has to get back."

But, says Mrs. Franklin firmly, "The best place he could be now is with Bud Delp. It's very good for him to be with Bud, living in the racing atmosphere."

Later in the evening, the strength of the Franklin family is revealed. In an impromptu reunion, no fewer than 25 members of it appear at the department store to support Ronnie in his picture-signing chore, right down to 5-year-old Walter Anthony Cullum, who wears a T shirt emblazoned RONNIE FRANKLIN. MY UNCLE. He also twirls a pair of racing goggles—the ones, in fact, that Ronnie wore at Churchill Downs, still dusty from the track. "Got 'em off Ronnie's horse hat," he explains nonchalantly.

Ronnie sits there, smiling and signing autographs. The line moves forward slowly, like cars in California waiting for gas. A non-horseman, an out-of-towner evidently, looks on curiously for a moment, then says to his wife distainfully, "He's a hero if you're a horse lover from Maryland, I suppose." He looks closer. "Hey," he says, "he's giving out autographs! I'm getting one for Bernie!"

Bernie? A horse lover from Maryland, no doubt.

PHOTOBack home in Baltimore's Dundalk section after the Derby, Ronnie got a hero's welcome from his folks.