Holy Bull's trainer unfazed by 'slow' trial VTC

May 03, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Mike Battaglia, oddsmaker for Churchill DownsSun Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jimmy Croll leaned against a wall outside Barn 41 at Churchill Downs yesterday, recalling how trainer Morris Dixon had fed Polynesian nearly a dozen ears of field corn just a few hours before the horse won the 1945 Preakness Stakes.

That might be considered sort of a heavy diet these days, especially when equine athletes feast on scientifically balanced rations and are drawn like greyhounds before a race.

Croll was 24 at the time, galloping a couple of sets of horses for free for "Pop" Dixon in Kennett Square, Pa. He would finish at Dixon's farm and then head off to classes in veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, which he quit after a couple of years to pursue a career training thoroughbreds.

In 43 years as a trainer, Croll has saddled 59 stakes winners and three champions and, in his words, "has just about seen it all."

So the 74-year-old horseman, who conditions Holy Bull, "the horse to beat" in Saturday's 120th Kentucky Derby, wasn't the least bit perturbed yesterday when second-choice Brocco outshone his colt in a pre-Derby training trial.

"I'm kind of laid back," said Croll, who speaks in rapid, staccato sentences, almost as if he is talking under his breath. "I don't get too excited."

Brocco, the Santa Anita Derby winner, with jockey Gary Stevens in the irons, worked six furlongs in 1 minute, 13 3/5 seconds, a second faster than it took Holy Bull to travel the same distance a few minutes later.

"An awesome move," Stevens said about Brocco. "By far the best workout of his career. He was like King Kong out there."

If Stevens was going ape over Brocco, Croll didn't seem impressed.

"They sent the horse," he said. "They asked him to run, which we didn't do. My horse has natural speed, so we never ask him for it in the morning. What we're trying to do is to get him to finish a little better in his works."

Holy Bull finished the last quarter of his work in 24 1/5 seconds, nearly a second faster than his first quarter of 25 seconds.

Croll likened the way he is training Holy Bull to the methods he employed in stretching Bet Twice out to 1 1/2 miles in the 1987 Belmont Stakes, which he won. "We got Bet Twice ready for the Belmont off long gallops, and then we'd spurt him the last half-mile," he said.

Croll follows a regular routine with Holy Bull, using his 140-pound exercise rider, Bobby Perna, to work the horse instead of jockey Mike Smith. "I'd say Holy Bull carried about 15 more pounds this morning than Brocco, and Bobby didn't carry a stick," Croll said.

It was Holy Bull's first workout over the strip, "and I didn't know what number [time] to ask the boy to go in," Croll said. "But it was about the same as everybody else." Valiant Nature had gone in 1:14, Tabasco Cat in 1:15, Ulises in 1:15 1/5, Mahogany Hall in 1:16 2/5 and Strodes Creek in 1:17.

Of those horses, Croll indicated he likes the slowest, Strodes Creek, the best. "He might be the best of all these horses by fall," Croll said. "He's only had four races going into the Derby. But -- who knows? -- he might win it."

Croll said he is sure that Argentine-born trainer Alfredo Callejas will gun Ulises to the lead in Saturday's race and try to test front-running Holy Bull early.

But even that thought leaves Croll unflappable. He predicts that Ulises "won't have the last word."

Even all the talk about Holy Bull's lacking the necessary stamina in his pedigree to win the Derby doesn't faze Croll.

"They [pedigree analysts] are right," he said. "I suppose he is kind of a freak. His stride [long, with little wasted motion] is what makes this horse what he is. He continues to amaze me."

Croll looked over at Holy Bull, who was willed to him last summer by his late owner, Rachel Carpenter.

"Training a good horse is like fine-tuning a watch," he said. "That's all I'm doing with him this week. I want to have him tuned right and ready to spring on Saturday."

KENTUCKY DERBY ODDS

Horse .. .. .. .. .. .. Odds

Holy Bull .. .. .. .. .. 8-5

Brocco .. .. .. .. .. .. 3-1

Tabasco Cat .. .. .. ... 6-1

Southern Rhythm .. .. .. 8-1

Strodes Creek .. ... ... 8-1

Valiant Nature .. .. .. 12-1

Blumin Affair .. .. ... 15-1

Powis Castle .. ... ... 15-1

Soul Of The Matter ... 15-1

Go For Gin .. .. .. ... 20-1

Kandaly .. .. .. .. ... 20-1

Mahogany Hall .. .. ... 20-1

Meadow Flight .. .. ... 20-1

Smilin Singin Sam .. .. 20-1

Ulises .. .. .. ... ... 20-1

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