Continued from part 1
At the end of the year, Holy Bull had done it all. He demonstrated extraordinary brilliance against older horses, easily winning the Met Mile and Woodward Stakes (gr. I) in blistering times. He annihilated 3-year-olds in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II), Florida Derby, and Dwyer Stakes (gr. II). He displayed the courage of a champion in the Travers Stakes (gr. I), digging in and holding off the furious late charge of eventual Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Concern, despite the presence of a rabbit to soften him up and a brutal three-quarters in 1:10.43. He showed the will to win by coming again to defeat the swift Patton in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II). And he demonstrated his ability to concede weight to top-class horses by defeating graded stakes winner Meadow Flight and Concern in the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I), giving them eight pounds.
Of the horses he defeated in 1994, Devil His Due, Colonial Affair, Cherokee Run, Concern, Go for Gin, and Tinners Way all came back to win grade I stakes, while Tabasco Cat, Bertrando, and Meadow Flight won stakes in their next starts. He defeated the winners of the grade I Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont (twice), Breeders' Cup Classic, Breeders' Cup Sprint, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Whitney, Woodward, Pacific Classic (twice), and Suburban.
In his eight victories that year, his average Beyer Speed Figure was over 115, which is remarkable for a 3-year-old. Here was a Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male who, during his career, defeated a champion older horse, champion sprinter, and champion 2-year-old male, not to mention three classic winners and two Breeders' Cup winners.
Although the Travers was Holy Bull's narrowest margin of victory, it was the race that stamped his true greatness. No Travers winner other than Man o' War had run three-quarters faster than Holy Bull, as he had to put away Tabasco Cat's rabbit. When Concern, racing far back early, charged up almost on even terms, even Croll was convinced Holy Bull was beaten. But he held on tenaciously to win by a neck. Concern's trainer Dick Small said afterward, "That was a race for the ages. I had to get out of there quick or I would have broke into tears. My horse was fresh and I really thought we had it. For Holy Bull to dig in and fight back like that after all he had to do early in the race showed that he's really something special."
What made Holy Bull such a fan favorite was that he ran as hard, as fast, and as far as he could race after race. He looked the best horses in America in the eye and left them for dead. The way he rated in the Woodward before blowing away a star-studded field by five lengths in 1:46.89 was nothing short of spectacular. Just try to imagine racecaller Tom Durkin's voice as he bellowed in a tone of disbelief, "Holy Bull winning like a champion...with devastating ease! Holy Bull toying with the best horses in training."
His rider, Mike Smith, put it best when he said, "I'm in awe of him. I thought he grew wings at the quarter pole."
Everyone expected Holy Bull to point for the Breeders' Cup, but Croll could see some wear and tear after a long, hard year. He knew that making the Breeders' Cup would force him to miss the Gulfstream meet. "I took a little heat for the decision to put him away for the year," Croll said. "But I race every year in Florida, and I felt I owed it to them to run the horse there."
Holy Bull was assigned 130 pounds on the Daily Racing Form Free Handicap, the first 3-year-old in 15 years to be weighted that high. He arrived in Florida a national hero. A headline in the Form read: " 'Bullmania' Sweeps the Nation."
Croll brought him back in the seven-furlong Olympic Handicap and he easily defeated the classy Birdonthewire. Then came the Donn Handicap (gr. I) and a battle with an upstart named Cigar, winner of three straight, including the NYRA Mile (gr. I). One can only speculate what would have happened had Holy Bull not pulled up on the backstretch with a career-ending injury. But many believe Holy Bull was already starting to pull away from Cigar when the injury occurred. One of those, naturally, was Croll.
"I truly feel he would have beaten Cigar," Croll said. "He was just getting ready to go by him. But I didn't even think of that. I was just so happy to see his four feet on the ground, and to know it wasn't life-threatening. When I went back to the barn, there were over 100 people there to see how he was. One of the first ones back there was (Cigar's trainer) Bill Mott."
Holy Bull was retired to Jonabell Farm, where he has sired 13 stakes winners, including Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner and champion 2-year-old male Macho Uno, Frizette (gr. I) winner Confessional, and Flamingo Stakes (gr. III) winner Thunder Blitz, who finished fourth in this year's Kentucky Derby.
If you're anywhere near Saratoga on Aug. 6, stop by the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and listen to all the remembrances of a truly gifted athlete. You'll hear a lot of superlatives and talk of great, heroic feats. And when you do, just remember one thing: none of it is bull.