Posted: Saturday March 11, 2000 09:48 PM
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Before he jumped aboard Hal's Hope in what would turn out to be the race of a lifetime, jockey Roger Velez gave 88-year-old owner/trainer Harold Rose a big hug.
"It's such a terrific story," Velez said. "He's been so sick, and the good Lord gave him a horse to keep him going."
Hal's Hope lived up to his name Saturday, staving off a determined run by favored High Yield to win the $750,000 Florida Derby by a head and keeping the Triple Crown hopes alive for Rose.
Rose knows he's lucky to be around to enjoy his greatest moment in 30-plus years in the racing business after retiring from the printing and publishing world in 1968. In August, Rose had quadruple-bypass surgery but was back at his barn three weeks later.
Roger Velez (in pink) and Hal's Hope staved off a late charge by favorite High Yield, ridden by Pat Day. AP
"One of the reasons I got back so quickly is I had Hal's Hope," said Rose, who took out his trainer's license in New Jersey before moving to south Florida in the early 1970s. "I knew he was something special the first time I saw him."
Rose, who named the best horse he's ever had after himself, cheered on Hal's Hope from the stands at Gulfstream Park, pumping his right arm in the air as his 3-year-old colt crossed the finish to the cheers of a hometown crowd of 28,003.
The result has Rose dreaming of his return to the Kentucky Derby after 16 years and Velez eager to get there for the first time.
"This time I'm going to the Derby with a contender," Rose said, referring to his previous claim to fame, saddling Rexson's Hope to a 10th-place finish in the 1984 Derby. "That time I was going with a long shot."
Not this time.
Hal's Hope, with Velez aboard for all eight of the 3-year-old colt's lifetime starts, finished second to High Yield in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 19, losing by 3 1/4 lengths. However, Rose said his colt bled in that race so he ran him on the diuretic Lasix on Saturday.
Everything went right. And now that Rose has the orchids that go with a Florida Derby victory, he's ready to run for the roses at Churchill Downs on May 6.
"My expectations have been realized," Rose said. "I knew this was a good horse right from the beginning, and now he's proved it."
The 43-year-old Velez has fought back from problems, too. In the early 1980s, he battled alcohol dependency, and his wife, Patti, said he had a stroke and was paralyzed on one side of his body for a time.
Hal's Hope broke on top in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, and relinquished the lead only once, for an instant at the eighth pole. High Yield, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, came mighty close to regaining the edge in the stretch, but never was able to pull ahead.
The two hooked up along the backstretch, leaving the rest of the 10-horse field to fight it out for third. Hal's Hope, a son of 1989 Florida Derby winner Mercedes Won, was along the rail over a track many trainers said favored speed horses. High Yield, with Pat Day aboard, slipped inside Hal's Hope, but Velez, riding in his first Florida Derby, kept his colt in front as the two turned for home.
High Yield made one more move, along the outside, but he wasn't going to catch Rose's colt. "Once he gets in front," Rose said, "he's not going to let another horse pass him."
Said Day: "That was a great horse race."
Hal's Hope, winning for the third time in his past four races, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51 2-5 and returned $15.80, $5.20 and $3.60. High Yield, the even-money favorite, returned $3 and $2.40. Tahkodha Hills was third, 10 lengths behind High Yield, and paid $8.60.
Settlement was fourth, followed by Postponed, Scottish Halo, Deputy Warlock, Elite Mercedes, Bare Outline and Hades. Hal's Hope earned $450,000 for Rose.
"This is kind of a happy ending," Lukas said. "I'm happy for him. If I was going to lose, I'm glad I lost to that guy. But I'm not going to pitch him any slack."
Next up for Hal's Hope could be the Blue Grass Stakes or Wood Memorial, both on April 15, while High Yield is headed to the Blue Grass.
On the undercard, Trippi, the 4-5 favorite, came from off the pace and won the $100,000 Swale Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over Ultimate Warrior to keep him on the road to the Derby.
Trippi, ridden by Jerry Bailey, covered seven furlongs in 1:23 2-5 and has won all three career starts. The colt's next race could be either the Spiral Stakes on March 25 or the Flamingo Stakes on April 8.
In other races at Gulfstream, 2-1 favorite Beckon the King won the $100,000 Fort Lauderdale Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths over Kettle Won and Dancing Guy took the $75,000 Creme Fraiche Handicap by one length over Yankee Victor.