Hal's Hope, outlasting Mongoose in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Hal's Hope, outlasting Mongoose in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

AP/ Equi-Photo/ Bill Denver

Gulfstream Park Report: Local Legend

Published in the April 6 issue of The Blood-Horse
March 30 was a day of comebacks and departures at Gulfstream Park. Among those going were the majority of the backstretch inhabitants. With winter thawing at points north such as Keeneland and Aqueduct, horse trailers almost outnumbered Canadian snowbirds making a beeline out of South Florida for the season. It was not surprising since the day's featured Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. I) represented the last graded stakes in the state until July and the last grade I of the year.

The race too was changing. The 57th edition of the 1 1/4-mile race that had been won by champions including Coaltown, Forego, Cigar, and Skip Away will be knocked back a peg to a grade II for the 2003 running. The five contestants of the 2002 race, however, seemed to be making an argument for the status quo. Four of the five were grade I winners and three had already won graded stakes during the Gulfstream meet.

A member of both subsets was Hal's Hope, the apple of 90-year-old breeder/owner/trainer Harold Rose's eye. A confirmed speedball early in his career and the front-running winner of the 2000 Florida Derby (gr. I), the 5-year-old had been taught to rate by Rose and his constant escort around the track, rider Roger Velez. Although that style resulted in solid outings, the horse was back to his old front-running tricks wiring the field in the Creme Fraiche Handicap (gr. III) three weeks ago.

"He could have run from behind in that race too if we wanted to," said Rose, insisting his namesake was equally adept at either running style. "He's only better in front because every time he comes from off the pace he always seems to get into trouble. It's gotten to where I see where I'm going and who I'm going with and then we decide how we run."

Having drawn the rail in a small field that contained no other dominant speed, Rose was clear on his mandate for the Gulfstream Park Handicap. "Go to the front and make the pace as slow as possible," Rose said to Velez before the race. "If you can get the half in :49, he should have plenty left." The jockey followed instructions to a "T," getting to the front and reeling off splits of :24.19, :49.17, and 1:13.62. He was not, though, without company--Mongoose shadowed him around the oval, alternately drawing within a head and backing off to a length behind. "I had to play it that way," said rider Edgar Prado, explaining he was caught between letting Hal's Hope get away too easily and burning Mongoose in a pace duel.

With 1-2 favorite Red Bullet being pushed hard just to stay in contention behind them and Sir Bear and American Halo lagging well back, Hal's Hope and Mongoose made it a match race as they drew away in tandem heading into the turn. On the outside, Mongoose briefly gained an advantage near the quarter-pole but was never able to rid himself of Hal's Hope, who changed leads for Velez on cue and drew away in the final sixteenth for a half-length win, timed in 2:02.91.

Sir Bear finished 5 3/4 lengths back in third, followed home by American Halo and Red Bullet.

"He felt horrible," said the favorite's jockey Jerry Bailey. "He never extended himself in this race."

Feeling horrible too was trainer Joe Orseno, who could find no physical reason for his runner's poor showing. "It's a head-scratcher," he said. "I would have never expected him to run that bad."

Neither would the crowd, who sent 80% of the money in the show pool through the windows on Red Bullet. The show prices, as a result, were most generous: prices for the top three finishers were $13.80, $8, and $10.

A throng of Rose family members and friends accompanied the son of Jolie's Halo to the winner's circle, but standing front and center both literally and figuratively, hands on each other's shoulders, were the trainer and jockey who have forged a most remarkable bond. The 46-year-old Velez, a recovering alcoholic, calls Rose "papa" and makes it a point to visit Hal's Hope daily. The nonagenarian has responded by making Velez the sole rider of Hal's Hope in his 31-race career. Asked whether he considered changing jockeys during the two years without a graded stakes win that followed the Florida Derby, Rose was resolute. "Why would I do that?" he asked incredulously.

Instead, Rose's patience was rewarded with a sixth career stakes victory for Hal's Hope and the winning share of a $300,000 purse that made his horse a millionaire. Looking back over a career that included nine straight defeats over the span of a year following his big 3-year-old win, Rose chose to focus on Hal's Hope's resiliency. "I always knew he was a great horse even during the times when he didn't show it," he said. "None of his contemporaries from that year are still in training, but we're still here."

He concluded that he expected to return for Gulfstream's 2003 meet and why not? His runner is five-for-eight there and four-for-23 elsewhere. After all, what's another year when you're 91 and have a horse like Hal's Hope?

Gulf Streams
Under Jerry Bailey, Peter Vegso's homebred Orchard Park retained his position at the top of the class among turf sophomores with a facile 2 1/2-length victory in the March 29 Gravelines Stakes. The win was the fourth straight for the Bill Mott trainee... Last year's dual grade I winner With Anticipation made his 2002 debut in a March 27 grass sprint, finishing second... Also on that day, trainer Peter Walder won the first two races. Though winning regularly is nothing new for the 33-year-old who has connected with a remarkable 41% at this meet (12 wins from 29 starters), it was the first time Walder had swept the early daily double... The March 31 Caltech Handicap went to Lord Juban.

(Chart, Equibase)