Don't expect to see Horse of the Year Holy Bull in the Pimlico Special.
Those are the sentiments of the colt's owner-trainer, Jimmy Croll, who said in Washington on Friday that he hasn't entirely ruled out the Maryland race, but added: "Truthfully, [the Special] is too close to the Met Mile, which is one of the major objectives I've planned for the horse. And the race is a little farther than I'd like to run him in at that time of year."
The Pimlico Special, at 1 3/16 miles, is tentatively scheduled for May 13, a week before the Preakness. The Met Mile is traditionally run at Belmont Park on May 31.
It is possible that Pimlico management could move up the race earlier in May to attract the "Bull," and Croll did leave the door open a crack at the Turf Publicists of America lunch Friday when he said he could run the colt "in something else" between the Santa Anita Handicap on March 11 and the Met Mile.
That could mean either the Oaklawn Handicap in April or the Pimlico Special. No doubt the Special would be a more viable option if it were spaced out at least four weeks before the Met Mile.
Croll said: "I've got a lot of friends in Maryland, and I'd really like to be there. I've won the Special before [with Bet Twice] and finished second with Sharpsburg. I don't like to plan too far ahead and really haven't thought much past the Donn [Handicap on Feb. 12] and the Santa Anita Handicap [March 11]. In horse racing, anything is possible. So, we'll see how things work out."
Among Croll's closest friends are Laurel/Pimlico's head steward, John Heisler, and his wife, Cathy.
The Heislers attended the Eclipse functions honoring Croll. "We used to be neighbors when I was training horses in New Jersey," Heisler said. "And we've been friends ever since. Our kids grew up together and are close. I guess you would say they are like family."
Croll also has other Maryland connections. Among them, the 74-year-old trainer won his first added-money race -- the W. P. Burch Stakes -- at the defunct Bowie Race Course, now the Bowie Training Center, in 1951.
Eclipse dinner chatter
About 50 Maryland racing people turned out at the Eclipse Awards Dinner in Washington on Friday night.
Among them were Laurel/Pimlico co-owners Joe De Francis and his sister, Karin. Joe De Francis presented the Eclipse Award for champion turf horse to Bill Mott, trainer of Paradise Creek.
Karin De Francis presented the Female Turf Eclipse award to the racing manager for Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum, owner of the winner, Hatoof.
Hatoof, who won the Beverly D. Handicap at Arlington International Racecourse and was second in the Breeders' Cup Turf, has been retired and is being bred to Mr. Prospector.
William T. Young, owner of the Eclipse-winning 2-year-old filly, Flanders, said the horse, who fractured a sesamoid in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies stakes, will never race again.
Georgia Hoffman, owner of Sky Beauty, winner among older fillies and mares, said her horse will race this year at the age of 5.
Alfred Vanderbilt, the 82-year-old former owner of Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, corrected Thoroughbred Racing Associations officials and said he was not president of Pimlico Race Course at the age of 20, an error that was announced in a TRA news release and repeated last night. "I was still in college [Yale] then," Vanderbilt said. "But I was president of Pimlico later on."
vTC Vanderbilt, in accepting a special Eclipse Merit of Honor Award, said, "It's the nicest thing to happen to me, other than standing in the winner's circle."
Vanderbilt's Maryland trainer, Mary Eppler, accompanied him to the ceremony.
Next year, the TRA convention and Eclipse Awards dinner will be in San Diego.
Trying to improve Best Seven bet
Among the items being discussed at the TRA convention was how to enhance the National Best Seven, a weekly 50-cent Pick 7 type of bet that has failed to live up to expectations.
Among the ideas: Change the format to a Best Four, since it would be easier for the average bettor to pick four rather than seven winners. Another idea: Offer another type of wager along with the Best Seven, such as a Pick 3 or Pick 4.
"We also want to start a well-organized marketing effort to promote the bet this year," said Jeff Parrott, the TRA official who coordinates Best Seven wagering. "We want to do this on a regional basis to ensure the same type of enthusiasm for the bet in each of our jurisdictions."
Parrott said that although the handle on the exotic weekly wager has been below expectations, "a lot of positives have come out of it. People like the seven races presented in a one-hour TV format, and the technical end has worked extremely well. We're not about to give up on it."
Maryland television hosts Kim Goodwin and Jeannine Edwards have regularly appeared as co-anchors with Al Jerkens on the Best Seven broadcast.
Two weeks ago, Goodwin picked all seven winners, Parrott said, "and we got quite a bit of feedback from that from America Online [a computer information network]."