Hoping for a second chance

Trainer: Harold J. Rose hopes his colt, Hal's Hope, can win the Fountain of Youth Stakes and get him back to the Kentucky Derby.

February 17, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- The working title of Elsie Rose's next book was "Everyone Must Have A Dream." Then she and her husband Harold, an 88-year-old trainer of thoroughbreds, found one.

His name is Hal's Hope, a leading contender in the $200,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a high-caliber race for prospective Triple Crown horses Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Harold J. Rose bred, nurtured, developed and trains Hal's Hope. He even named the 3-year-old colt after himself.

"Hal's Hope," Rose said yesterday at his barn at Calder Race Course near Gulfstream. "Hope to get there."

"There" is the Kentucky Derby.

Rose has gotten there once, and he was a good story because of his age. In 1984 his Rexson's Hope, a long-shot member of the mutuel field, finished 10th. Rose was 72.

Now, four months shy of 89, he would be the media's darling if he makes it back for this year's Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

"To tell you the truth," Rose said, "I didn't think it'd ever happen again. I don't breed horses the caliber of those Derby horses."

Since Rose took up horse-training 32 years ago, he has filled his stalls with mostly lower-level horses, claimers (other trainers' castoffs) and homebreds (from matings of his modest broodmares to equally modest stallions). He has never won a Grade I stakes, the toughest and most prestigious ones. The Fountain of Youth would be his first.

His wife, Elsie, 85, has written three books -- and is working on a fourth -- based on her husband's track experiences.

"She was going to call it `Everyone Must Have A Dream,' " Rose said. "But lately she's decided to call it `Hal's Hope.' "

That suits Rose fine, because he said he believes Hal's Hope has a strong chance in the Fountain of Youth, especially after the colt's overpowering 5 1/4-length victory in the Holy Bull Stakes five weeks ago at Gulfstream. Hal's Hope led that 1 1/16-mile race every step.

"I told everybody I thought he was the best horse in Florida prior to the race," Rose said. "Nobody believed me."

Hal's Hope went off at 40-1. He paid $82.40 to win.

Does Rose bet? "A little bit."

Did he make money on that race? "Oh, yeah."

How much? "I'm not saying," he replied, grinning.

An amiable, soft-spoken trainer who looks far younger than his years, Rose said he "retired to this" in 1968 after selling two businesses in New Jersey -- a printing and publishing company and a 40-acre resort for corporate retreats.

"I knew it was a seven-day-a-week job," Rose said of training [he arrives at the barn at 4 a.m.]. "But it's not work when you love what you're doing."

Rose witnessed his first horse race in 1932 as a tourist at Hialeah Park. He was captivated by the spectacle and by the challenge of picking winners. Nearly two decades later, in 1951, he bought two racehorses, $1,500 for both -- "much to my chagrin." One actually won a race in Ohio, but the other he gave away.

By 1968, when he changed careers, he owned six horses. Chester Bowles trained them at Gulfstream. After moving to South Florida in 1956, Rose spent a lot of time with Bowles learning the business.

"I've been able to keep my head above water," Rose said. "This is not an easy business to make money in. If you meet expenses, you're doing pretty good."

He said he's met them most years. The financial cushion from his earlier businesses has allowed him to continue racing horses from his own mares, even when horses and mares proved mediocre. But with Hal's Hope, Rose seems to have bred a winner.

The colt's dam is Mia's Hope, Rose's best racing filly and a graded-stakes winner. Rose bred her in 1996 to Jolie's Halo, a multiple Grade I winner then standing in Florida. And Mia's Hope is a daughter of Rexson's Hope, Rose's Derby horse in '84.

Rose believed from the beginning that Hal's Hope had promise. And so did others. Rose said he's turned down numerous offers to buy the colt, including ones for "a couple million."

"I keep telling everybody he's not for sale," Rose said. "Horses like this don't come along very often. I'm going to keep him."

Trainers like Rose don't come along very often either -- at least they certainly don't usually last this long. So how long does he plan to keep training horses? "Until I die, I hope," he said.

Facts, figures

What: Fountain of Youth Stakes

Where: Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Fla.

When: Saturday, post time 5: 20 p.m.

TV: ESPN 5 p.m.

Grade: I

Purse: $200,000

Distance: 1 1/16 miles

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