BY SCOTT DAVIS
Hal's Hope edges out favorite High Yield in the Florida Derby
They call him Papa. No, that isn't the title of the latest spaghetti western, although, to be sure, trainer Harold "Papa" Rose got the best of some tough gunslingers on March 11. Cowboys such as "Brooklyn" Nick Zito, Elliott "The Kid" Walden, and of course, the biggest and baddest of them all, the man so feared he's just known as "Wayne," all came and took their best shots at Rose in the Florida Derby (gr. I).
If you really wanted to know why they call Rose "Papa," you just needed to be around the Gulfstream winner's circle after the colt named for him, Hal's Hope, dashed off with the Florida Derby. There, under a steady rain that the exhilaration of victory made easy to ignore, Rose, his wife (and biographer) Elsie, their four children, 14 grand and great-grandchildren, and a throng of in-laws, well wishers, and friends basked in the adoration of a crowd of 28,033 after what he called "by far and away my biggest victory in racing."
While it's not uncommon for patrons clutching winning tickets to incorporate winning trainers and jockeys into their families in the afterglow of triumph, Hal's Hope's win was popular even among those who hadn't bet on him. Even trainer Wayne Lukas, who saddled runner-up High Yield, agreed, "If I had to lose, there is nobody I would rather lose to than Mr. Rose."
It was just three weeks ago that High Yield jumped to an early
lead in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. I) and ran away from
the field, defeating Hal's Hope by 3 1/4 lengths. But, as jockey
Roger Velez, who has been aboard Hal's Hope for each of his eight
starts pointed out, "My colt was edgy and uncomfortable that
day." After the race, a scope showed some internal bleeding,
and the 3-year-old colt was treated with Lasix for the first time
in the Florida Derby. "Today he was on the bridle, just bristling
with energy," Velez contrasted.
Velez sent Hal's Hope directly for the lead this time around, while High Yield, the even-money favorite, broke from the rail and secured a position inside of, and just behind, Hal's Hope. Right from the gate the two commenced a dance that would last throughout the 1 1/8 miles.
Twice High Yield pulled alongside Hal's Hope, and twice the leader edged clear, the second time as the pair straightened away for home on nearly even terms.
"I thought all I had to do was push a button and we'd go by," observed High Yield's rider Pat Day, who peeked over his shoulder at the three-sixteenth pole as if to indicate he was looking for threats other than Hal's Hope. "The winner surprised me; I thought we could put him away."
While the lead varied from between a neck to three-quarters of a length, Hal's Hope never was headed, in large part due to a heady ride by Velez.
"At the eighth-pole, I knew that Pat had a lot of horse," he said. "But when I switched the whip to my left hand and tapped him, he just exploded."
The final margin of victory was a head.
Even as the front-running duo were engaging each other they
were drawing away from the other eight colts. At the three-eighths
pole, the margin was four lengths to the stalking Elite Mercedes.
By the eighth-pole, seven lengths separated Hal's Hope and High
Yield from their closest competitors. At the wire, the third-place
finisher, Tahkodha Hills, wasn't even in the picture, finishing
10 lengths behind the top two. Settlement, a last-minute entry,
rallied wide to finish fourth.
Following the race, after Rose was hugged and kissed by more comely young women than an 88-year-old has the right to, the Newark, N.J., native described lying in a Miami Beach hospital bed just seven months ago, recovering from quadruple bypass surgery. "I was so excited to get back to the barn and see how that colt was doing that I was on my feet in three weeks," he recalled.
Although few would have judged it then (Hal's Hope had been beaten by a total of 40 lengths in his only two starts to that point), Rose had confidence in the colt he bred and owns. He has included "Hope" in the names of many of his runners, such as Rexson's Hope, whom he saddled to a 10th-place finish in the 1984 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Mia's Hope, the graded-stakes winning dam of Hal's Hope, but he had waited "until I had a special one" to use his nickname, Hal.
After a three-month layoff necessitated by bucked shins, Hal's
Hope came to hand quickly and burst onto the scene with a front-running,
5 1/4-length victory in January's Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) at
40-1, followed by the second-place finish in the Fountain of Youth.
"And he just keeps improving with every start," said
The jockey is improving, too. Velez, a recovering alcoholic, was out of racing for nearly four years after sustaining a stroke in 1984, the result of mixing alcohol with diuretics. "It has been a long road back," said the 42-year-old who was making his Florida Derby debut. Velez shares a bond with Hal's Hope unique to jockeys and their mounts. After the race, he celebrated by following the colt to his home at Calder Race Course and "sharing a quiet moment with just him and I."
There may be scant few quiet moments left for Hal's Hope and
his connections, for, as Rose readily admitted, they are formally
on the Derby trail now. While they remain uncertain where that
trail will take them--Rose mentioned the Flamingo Stakes (gr.
III) as a possibility, since it will be contested over the Gulfstream
track he enjoys--Rose will not entertain any of the myriad of
offers he has had to sell the colt.
"What would an 88-year-old man do with $2 million?" he joked.
Much was made before the race of the potential for a track biased toward speed, a condition that many felt aided High Yield's Fountain of Youth win. There was no observable bias on this day, however. "The track was playing fair," commented Ken McPeek, trainer of seventh-place finisher Deputy Warlock. "He just wasn't good enough today."
Like many, McPeek began this Gulfstream meet with high hopes for a 3-year-old only to be left scratching his head. With the bulk of the action shifting to points north of Florida, only High Yield and Hal's Hope are proven candidates to represent South Florida in the classic races this spring.
"It looks like these two are way above the other horses here in Florida," Lukas observed, mentioning that his colt would make his next start in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on April 15.
But while others were busying themselves with plans, Hal Rose
and his wife of 65 years were soaking it all in, enjoying the
moment as their loved ones gathered around. Rose repeatedly said
the joy his family gets out of racing is his primary motivator,
and he recently changed the ownership name of his stable to Rose
Family Stable. "Sometimes it's more pressure taking care
of the family than the horse," he joked.
Is it any wonder they call him Papa?