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FLORIDA DERBY : Croll Will Take Fate by the Horns

March 12, 1994|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HALLANDALE, Fla. — Last Aug. 13, Rachel Carpenter had her daily midday pool game with a member of the household staff at her palatial home on Fire Island, overlooking the sound off Long Island, N.Y., then went to her hairdresser's. By 2 a.m. on Aug. 14, the 78-year-old A&P heiress was dead, a victim of complications of lung cancer.

At 11 a.m. on Aug. 14, Jimmy Croll, who had introduced Carpenter to racing and had trained her horses for 37 years, learned of her death. Croll was hours away from running one of Carpenter's horses, Holy Bull, in his maiden race at Monmouth Park. Carpenter's lawyer and Croll decided to go ahead as planned.

"We both thought it would have been what she would have wanted," Croll said.

Holy Bull had drawn the rail in a field of nine 2-year-olds going 5 1/2 furlongs.

"I thought that was the death trap, so I told the jockey (Luis Rivera) to send him (to the lead)," Croll said.

Holy Bull never trailed and won by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:03 4/5. Croll, only three years younger than Carpenter, stood in the winner's circle with a hollow feeling, unaware that in two days he would be told that he was the new owner of Holy Bull.

Carpenter, survived only by a daughter who had no interest in racing, left Croll the eight horses they had in training.

"How valuable were they?" Croll said this week at Gulfstream Park. "Well, Holy Bull had been insured for $25,000. There was a filly insured for $50,000--she was the topper. All eight of them came to less than $200,000."

Holy Bull won all four of his races as a 2-year-old and defeated Dehere, the eventual division champion, the only time they raced--albeit on an off track. This year, the streak reached five before Holy Bull finally lost, but he is still the second choice, at 4-1, at Gulfstream today in the $500,000 Florida Derby, one of the major preps for the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

If Holy Bull wins the 1 1/8-mile test, his value will soar into the $1-million range.

"I've already had a lot of good offers for him," Croll said. "If I were 20 years younger, I'd sell him. But I'm not, and the whole family is having fun with this horse. I'm a horse lover. I love to race horses."

In the 1960s, Croll was training for Leon Levy, the CBS executive, as well as for Carpenter. Croll and Carpenter were racing only one horse together at the time. Levy didn't want to share Croll with other owners, so he gave the trainer an ultimatum to drop Carpenter. Croll refused and about six months later, Levy withdrew the ultimatum, keeping his horses with Croll.

"I don't want to make it sound like I'm bragging, but maybe I inherited these horses because of my loyalty," Croll said. "I know I had heard about 20 years ago that Mrs. Carpenter said something about leaving me her horses, but there wasn't another mention of it until after she died."

As the 13-10 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes here on Feb. 19, Holy Bull and Halo's Image hooked up in a duel for the lead, running the first half-mile in 45 3/5. Halo's Image lost all chance when he bolted on the turn for home, and Holy Bull quit running in mid-stretch, finishing last as Dehere came from far back to win.

Jockey Mike Smith thought that Holy Bull had suffered pulmonary bleeding, but a postrace examination showed that the colt had flipped his palate, a temporary condition that causes breathing problems. To prevent a recurrence, Croll has made some minor equipment changes, which include a noseband and a bit that will give Smith more control of the horse's mouth. Croll will also tighten a tongue tie farther back in the colt's mouth.

Horse Racing Notes

The Gulfstream track is expected to be fast, with temperatures in the high 70s, for the Florida Derby. . . . The entry of Go For Gin and Crary is the favorite at 3-1. The entrants, in post-position order, consist of Line Dance, Fabulous Frolic, Crary, Ride The Rails, Amathos, Holy Bull, Halo's Image, Dramatic Gold, Lahint, Rocky's Halo, Mr. Angel, Lynn's Notebook, Go For Gin and Robannier.

Gulfstream has seven other stakes on today's 12-race card. Bull In The Heather, winless since winning last year's Florida Derby, is entered in the Creme Fraiche Handicap.

Trainer Shug McGaughey is bringing a couple of his top horses back to the races, running Heavenly Prize in the What a Summer Stakes and Dispute in the Safely Kept Handicap. It will be Dispute's first race since she finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. . . . At Oaklawn Park today, Polar Expedition and Chimes Band are the favorites for the Southwest Stakes for 3-year-olds.

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