LEXINGTON, KY — LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Almost seven months ago to the day, Holy Bull was making his racetrack debut, a mere baby, born of undistinguished parents, running in the seventh race at Monmouth Park.
Today, just seven races later, he is the 70th Blue Grass Stakes champion, the most popular 3-year-old in the world, winner of nearly $1 million and the undisputed favorite for the Kentucky Derby, which will be run May 7.
Today he is insured for $1 million. He has two guards watching his stall night and day and an owner who has turned down an offer to sell him for $1.6 million.
No sale. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not when this muscular gray colt is on the threshold of super stardom. No sale by Jimmy Croll of BrynMawr, Pa., the colt's 74-year-old owner and trainer, who has waited a half-century for such a horse. Not when he and his wife, Bobbie, from Paoli, Pa., and his son Bill, his assistant trainer, are having the time of their lives. Not while the late Rachel Carpenter is "looking down, watching," at least in the mind of Croll, who inherited Holy Bull from her on that maiden day last August.
On a windy, partly sunny, 60-degree day at Keeneland, before 27,931 cheering spectators, Holy Bull easily outran six rivals yesterday in the $500,000 Grade II Blue Grass Stakes.
With a speedball named Valiant Nature invading from California and a come-from-behind expert named Kandaly invading from Louisiana, this was supposed to have been Holy Bull's sternest test.
Instead, it was a breeze, his seventh victory in eight starts,
coming in his last and most significant test before the Derby.
Smith, who won this race aboard Prairie Bayou last year, never even waved his whip at Holy Bull.
"This race ought to really set him up good for the Derby," Smith said. "He could have gone a lot quicker if he had to."
Holy Bull's winning time was 1 minute, 50 seconds, over a fast but deep track. The stakes record is 1:47 2/5 set by Round Table in 1957. Holy Bull's first quarter-mile was clocked in :23 4/5, followed by splits of :47 4/5, and 1:37 4/5. All colts carried 121 pounds.
Holy Bull, the favorite, paid $3.30, $2.60 and $2.40 to win, Valiant Nature paid $3.20 and $2.80, and Mahagony Hall paid $3.40.
Holy Bull's victory made believers of many who thought his 5 3/4 -length victory in the Florida Derby last month was a fluke, that his suspect breeding would catch up to him during the long trail to the Kentucky Derby. He is the only major Derby contender who does not have the proper qualifying dosage, a controversial bloodline formula that has proven correct all but once dating to the 1920s.
"I don't know much about that," Croll said after the race, "but I have a friend who has his own dosage system . . . and he told 'You have no worries. He'll go a mile-and-a-half.' "
Holy Bull will have to go only 1 1/4 miles in the Derby, a race that has wilted many runners with the same front-running style as Holy Bull's. The last front-runner to win the Derby was Winning Colors, a filly who led wire to wire in 1988 and beat Forty Niner by a neck. But Winning Colors was regally bred.
Asked about Brocco, last week's Santa Anita Derby winner and the biggest Derby threat from the West, Croll said: "In California they've all been kind of beating one another. Either they're all champions, or all are more or less the same. I hope they're all the same."
Blue Grass Stakes
Holy Bull (Smith) 3.00 2.20 2.10
Valiant Nature (Pincay) 2.80 2.60
Mahogany Hall (Martinez) 4.40
Irgun (Stevens) 5.60 3.20 3.30
a-Go For Gin (Bailey) 2.40 2.20
Shiprock (Migliore) 4.80
At Oaklawn Park
The Wicked North* 3.40 2.80 2.60
Devil His Due (Ramos) 7.60 4.40
Brother Brown (Ardoin) 6.60
*-Desormeaux rode winner