06/06/2008 11:00PM

Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Croll dies


Warren A. "Jimmy" Croll, who trained four champions in a Hall of Fame career that began in 1940, died Friday night in a New Jersey hospital due to an infection. He was 88.

Croll's death came on the 21st anniversary of Bet Twice's 14-length victory in the 1987 Belmont Stakes, which denied Alysheba his chance at the Triple Crown. Bet Twice would go on to defeat Alysheba in the Haskell Invitational, though Alysheba was voted that year's 3-year-old champion.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Croll rode horses at local hunt meets and fairs. He was a pre-vet major at the University of Pennsylvania for two years, but ultimately gave that up.

"I couldn't sit still," Croll was quoted as saying. "Training was what I wanted to do."

Croll was a mainstay on the New Jersey and south Florida circuit for half a century. He took out his trainer's license in 1940, but his career was quickly interrupted when he spent 2 1/2 years in the Army in the China-Burma-India theater of operations.

Since New Jersey racing wasn't under way when he returned from the war, Croll stabled at Havre de Grace in Maryland and would race there, Delaware Park, and New York. Croll won his first race in 1940 at Delaware Park with Circus Wings, a horse he bought for $50.

In 1965, Croll claimed Parka for $10,000 and the gelding went on to win 13 stakes and more than $400,000. He was named champion turf horse in 1965. In 1970, Croll trained the champion 2-year-old filly Forward Gal. His other champions were Housebuster, the sprint champion of 1990-91, and Holy Bull, who won Horse of the Year in 1994 as a 3-year-old after beating older horses in the Metropolitan Handicap and Woodward Stakes in addition to taking the Travers and Haskell Invitational.

Croll also trained Mr. Prospector, a fast stakes-winning sprinter who became one of the sport's most influential sires.

Bob Kulina, the vice president and general manager at Monmouth Park, credits Croll with making the Haskell at Monmouth Park an important race when Bet Twice defeated Alysheba.

"That was probably the beginning of what the Haskell became," said Kulina, who counted Croll as a friend. "He was everything that racing was in its glory days; Hall of Fame trainer, class. To me personally, he was a great friend and he was a great horseman."

Croll's son, Billy, worked for his father for many years, virtually taking over the stable in the last decade.

"To me he was the best," said Billy Croll, 63. "To racing, he made many, many people very happy. He created miracles. He made horses that weren't bred to be good, great. Holy Bull, he should have been a claimer. He developed that horse into one of the best horses in the last 50 years. He was the ultimate horseman - he was totally dedicated. He ate, drank, and breathed his horses."

In addition to his son, Croll is survived by a daughter, Nancy, 60, and two grandchildren.

Croll was to be cremated. A memorial service was being planned at Monmouth Park for a later date.