He's hoping for a happy ending

Weary Rose wants to go home a winner

125th Preakness

May 19, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Harold J. Rose stood outside his horse's stall at Pimlico yesterday for one more interview. One son stood at his side; another son recorded the scene on video.

"I'm ready to go home," Rose said.

Rose is the 88-year-old trainer of Hal's Hope, a horse he bred, owns and named after himself. "Hope" meant: "Hope to get back to the Kentucky Derby."

Rose had been to the Derby once - in 1984 as trainer of Rexson's Hope. Ever since Rexson's Hope finished 10th, Rose yearned to go again. Hal's Hope provided the chance. But in the Derby two weeks ago he, too, ran poorly and finished 16th.

Now Rose, his horse and his loyal jockey and sidekick Roger Velez have come to Pimlico for one last stop along the Triple Crown trail. Hal's Hope will be a long shot in the Preakness tomorrow because of disappointing finishes in his past two races.

The setbacks stung Rose, a proud man who is even prouder of his horse.

"I just hope he runs his race," Rose said yesterday in what seemed more plea than statement. "If he does, he'll be competitive."

Regardless, Rose and Velez will return afterward to southern Florida, where they normally ply their trade of training and riding thoroughbreds. They labor anonymously with mostly lower-level horses.

When Hal's Hope won the Florida Derby, that was the first GradeI victory for Rose. For Velez, it was the first time he had even ridden in the race.

And that was the last time Hal's Hope has carried his jockey and trainer into the winner's circle.

In the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, the nearly black colt fought for the lead but then faded to last (eighth). Three weeks later in the Kentucky Derby, he led early but faltered to 16th, nearly 25 lengths behind the winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

Still, Rose had gotten his wish; he had made it back to the Derby. And Velez had fulfilled a dream.

"I got to ride in the Derby; that was my dream," Velez said. "My kids saw me ride. My grandkids someday will see the tapes. ... Races come and go, but there's only one Derby."

Their story has become familiar after months in the media spotlight. Rose, who will turn 89 next month, suffered a heart attack last summer and underwent quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

Velez, 43, was an up-and-coming New York jockey in the late 1970s before succumbing to alcoholism and a stroke. He dropped out of racing for four years before returning as an exercise rider and then, gradually, as a jockey.

Rose, who started a second career as a trainer in 1968, has usually owned the horses he trains and arranged the mating of many of them. His homebreds are the antithesis of the regally bred million-dollar and multi-million-dollar Preakness horses such as High Yield and Fusaichi Pegasus.

Rose owned and raced the dam of Hal's Hope, the graded-stakes winner Mia's Hope. Then he bred her to Jolie's Halo, a multiple Grade I-stakes winner standing in Florida. The mating produced Hal's Hope.

Rose was one of the trainers who supported Velez in his comeback, and when Hal's Hope came into the barn, he did not waver. He put Rose aboard, where he's remained for all 10 of his races.

Velez calls Rose "Papa Rose."

"He's my hero, plain and simple," Velez said. "He's my role model. He's part of my family."

Since April 5, when they departed Florida with Hal's Hope, Rose and Velez have traveled together. Neither has been home even for a day.

Velez drives the van that carries Hal's Hope. He holds the horse for his baths. He walks him. He exercises him during morning workouts. He monitors the frequent cuts he gets from playing - "like a child," Velez said. "He's always doing something to himself."

Velez has given up the opportunity to ride at Gulfstream Park during these weeks between races. The jockey has sacrificed thousands of dollars in potential income because of his loyalty to Rose.

"He's been just as loyal to me," Velez said. "He could have put any jockey he'd wanted on Hal."

But Rose stuck with Velez. And Velez has stuck with Rose. Now, on the eve of perhaps their final glory together, they're surrounded by family and friends. About two dozen will be here for the Preakness, compared to 64 for the Kentucky Derby.

Rose's four children will be here, including Barry and Joan, who have filled in for Rose at his barn at Calder Race Course. Rose has 20 horses there. Hal's Hope is his only stakes horse.

"The rest of them are all allowance or claiming horses," Rose said.

Does he expect ever to get another Hal's Hope, another Derby or Preakness horse?"Not in the foreseeable future," Rose said.

"Not unless the mare drops another good one."

If the dam of Hal's Hope (Mia's Hope, whom Rose still owns), gave birth to another good one this year, that baby wouldn't be old enough for the Triple Crown series until 2003.

Rose would be 92. At each stop along this Triple Crown trail he has said, in response to questions about how long he'll keep training, to ask him again when he's 100.

But yesterday, outside the stakes barn at Pimlico, he said his legs are tired. He said he's grown weary of answering questions - although he's been gracious to a fault.

And he said he'll be happy when this ride is over, when the Preakness is finished, and he can take his horse and go home. Hal's Hope has had a tough campaign, and he is ready for a rest, Rose said. And so is Rose.

Race facts

What: Preakness Stakes; second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown

Where: Pimlico Race Course

When: Tomorrow

Post time: 5:27 p.m.

Gates open: 8:30 a.m.

Distance: 1 3/16 miles

Purse: $1million

TV: Chs. 2, 7 (coverage begins at 4:30 p.m.)

Kentucky Derby winner: Fusaichi Pegasus

Information: 410-542-9400

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