11/20/2010 4:41PM

Monmouth: A Painful Loss


Back in August of 1993, the day after a 2-year-old by the name of Holy Bull made his career debut at Monmouth Park I was at work in the Monmouth Park Publicity Office, making figures for the latest races in between writing press releases. When I came upon the Maiden Special Weight sprint captured by the future star I immediately suspected a problem with the timer, that the figure was too good for a juvenile firster. Something had to be wrong.

"JEEZ!" came the exclamation from across the office. Steve Schwartz, Monmouth Park's Publicity Director, was making his own set of figures, and he was on the same race as I was. "That Croll horse got some figure for that race yesterday!"

It turned out that the figure was perfectly legitimate, that trainer Warren "Jimmy" Croll had himself a real runner. Not that it was much of a surprise, since he had been telling anyone who asked that the son of Great Above was special.

"Give Croll a call and see what you can find out about him," Steve said. I called the barn and got Mr. Croll immediately.

"Hey, Mr. Croll, it's Kenny Peck from the Publicity Office. We wanted to ask you about that 2-year-old you..."

I didn't have to go any further.

"That horse is going to be better than Bet Twice, and better than Housebuster," he seemed to say, though the Hall of Fame trainer had a manner of speaking that made it tough to understand every word, especially when the words he's saying are shocking.

"Hold on a second Mr. Croll, I want to make sure I understand," I said, and he repeated just what he had said earlier, that the 2-year-old he had his barn was, in his Hall of Fame opinion, better than a Belmont Stakes winner and a two-time sprint champion.

I hung up the phone and told Steve what I had just been told. He hesitated briefly, then said, "You write the release, and I'll call Vegas." He got on the phone with David Scott, everyone's connection in Vegas at the time, and asked Scott to get future book prices on Holy Bull for the Breeders' Cup and the Kentucky Derby. In the meantime, I wrote up the press release, which included the sad news about how Croll owned the horse only because the colt's original owner, Rachel Carpenter, had just recently passed away. It was a story I knew I wanted to get right, since it was very likely to be picked up by the papers.

Suddenly, "WOO-HOO!", or something of that nature, came from Steve's office.

"We can get 100-1 on the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and 150-1 for the Derby!" he said, flustered. "I'm betting all I can on the Juvenile. The Derby is too far off, too much can happen. Let's just bet him in the Juvenile."

So we did. I bet $100, Schwartz bet many times more than that. Soon thereafter, the legend of Holy Bull started to grow, and as it did the story of the two guys in the Publicity Office who were sitting on big Breeders' Cup Future bets got all around the track. Everyone who stopped into the office asked about it, and Schwartz and I were quite pleased with ourselves, basking in the glow of our superior foresight.

That is until one morning, when Rick Lang, a handicapper at the track, came into the office armed with a smug smile.

"Did you guys hear?," he asked.

"Hear what?"

Lang's smile widened.

"I just got back from the barn. Someone must have fogged out. Holy Bull isn't even nominated to the Breeders' Cup."

I looked at Steve, awaiting the logical explanation that I didn't have.

"What? What? WHAT?", was all that came out, and the color drained from my face.

"Those tickets are WORTHLESS," said an obviously pleased Lang, walking out the door.

Steve and I later found out, of course, that it was true, that Holy Bull would not even be in the gate for the Breeders' Cup. The next year, when Holy Bull lined up as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, we held our breath, but both, as Jersey guys, were truly disappointed that the horse didn't run his race. Soon after, the whole story was a source of a real good laugh, and it remained that for many years -- over dinners in South Florida, in the bar down the road from Delaware Park, after a great day at Churchill during Derby Week. It always made me smile. Until today, when I found out that Steve passed away at 6:30 a.m., at the age of 64. Horse racing has lost a dear friend, and so have I.