- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky. That no man dies with a promising 2-year-old colt in his barn is Kentucky Derby folklore. For Harold Rose, it was true.

Rose underwent quadruple bypass surgery last summer. Doctors told the then-87-year-old trainer to rest six weeks; he was back in the barns after three. After all, Rose had known Hal's Hope would be a Derby contender since the colt was two days old. No way Rose was going to let his setback become the colt's.

After 49 years as an owner and 32 as a trainer of more than 1,000 horses, Rose has "probably the best horse I've ever had" entering Saturday's 126th Kentucky Derby. He could now become the oldest winning Derby trainer by 12 years over Charlie Whittingham, who was 76 when Sunday Silence won in 1989.

Hal's Hope has become the wise guys' choice. The sleek black colt isn't among the top contenders after finishing eighth in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 15. However, the current streak of 20 straight losing Derby favorites gives underdogs reason for optimism.

"This horse is a contender," Rose said. "You wouldn't think so from the [20-1] price, but I think so."

Rose also is the owner, breeder and namesake of Hal's Hope. After betting on horses for 18 years, Rose bought his first horse in 1951. He became a full-time trainer in 1968 after selling his printing business.

The South Florida trainer has won more than 700 races while looking for a Derby horse. Rexon's Hope won a juvenile stakes race before finishing 10th in the 1984 Derby while Sir Leon and Mia's Hope were stakes winners. Otherwise, Rose's breeding farm has produced little.

"You always see a little baby and say, 'This is going to be a good one.' They just don't all turn out the way you hope," he said. "I had a full brother of Rexson's Hope that never won a race."

But Rose noticed something special about Hal's Hope when the 2-day-old colt wandered over to him. The colt's confirmation was perfect. His temperament was strong.

"You always dream of getting to the Derby. When I saw this horse as a baby, I thought he might be my Derby horse," Rose said. "He showed intelligence at just 2 days old. He came over to me, and we were able to handle him. Usually, you can't get the foals away from their mother. They run away from you."

A front-running style with a long, low stride should help Hal's Hope avoid traffic problems in the 20-horse field. Hal's Hope drew the fifth post position yesterday inside Trippi (sixth) and High Yield (18th). That should let Hal's Hope dictate the early pace and save some distance by quickly moving to the rail before the first turn. Conversely, High Yield must now duck inside the first tier and won't press Hal's Hope early.

"I wouldn't say we're going to the lead, but we should be in a competitive position," Rose said.

Hal's Hope badly lost his first two races by 28 1/4 and 12 1/2 lengths before being sidelined for three months with bucked shins. But Hal's Hope won his Nov. 20 return, then steadily progressed through stakes races before winning the Florida Derby on March 11. A 15-length loss in the Blue Grass was disappointing, but Rose isn't giving up his Derby dream now.

"I realize from the beginning that this business is like a roller coaster you're up on top one day and down in the dumps the next," Rose said. "But all you have to do is hit a winner and you're back on top again."

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