Updated on 09/16/2011 7:14AM

Hal's Hope, Velez inseparable


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - When jockey Roger Velez says Hal's Hope has never been better, he knows of what he speaks. Velez has ridden Hal's Hope in each of his 31 career starts, and will be aboard once again Saturday in the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star Park.

Hal's Hope, a 5-year-old winner of $1,070,922, has won two of four starts this year, his most recent a half-length win over Mongoose in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 30. Before that race, he won the Grade 3 Creme Fraiche.

"Right now, he's a totally different horse," said Velez. "He's stronger than he was last year, and he's more aggressive, running-wise. He finishes stronger, and all of a sudden, muscle tone that wasn't there, is there. I think he has basically matured."

Velez would know. He has been alongside Hal's Hope from start. "From Day One, I've gotten on him," said Velez. "And the first time I ever worked him, I was like 'Wow, I think we found something special."'

After Hal's Hope won the Grade 1 Florida Derby in 2000 Velez decided to leave his Florida base and spend the next two months helping the then 88-year-old Harold Rose, who bred, owns, and trains Hal's Hope, prepare the colt for the Kentucky Derby and later the Preakness.

"You only get to ride in the Derby once in a lifetime, and I didn't want to miss anything," said Velez. "I got on him every day. It was just a special time, and it created a special bond between this horse and I."

Reba's Gold, for $500

The category is upsets, and the answer is Reba's Gold.

The correct response: "Who is the horse most most capable of upsetting Hal's Hope in the Texas Mile?"

Reba's Gold, who races for "Jeopardy!" game show host Alex Trebek, became a candidate for the Texas Mile after winning an allowance race at the distance on Feb. 9 at Santa Anita and earning a 115 Beyer Speed Figure.

"It was a real good race for him," said trainer Dan Hendricks. "He laid just off a nice horse, Sky Jack, and they hooked up at the quarter pole and went all the way to the wire together. Everything about the race was very impressive."

Southern California-based rider Eddie Delahoussaye was aboard Reba's Gold for the allowance win, and will make a rare trip to middle-America to ride the horse Saturday. The last two times Delahoussaye came to the Midwest in recent months he won major stakes, the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park with Perfect Drift and the Oaklawn Handicap with Kudos.

Mr Ross passes Texas Mile

Mr Ross became the third major player to defect from the Texas Mile in two days after his trainer, Donnie Von Hemel, did not enter the horse in the race Thursday morning. Keats and Irisheyesareflying both dropped out of the race Wednesday.

"We're going to leave Mr Ross in the barn," said Von Hemel. "We had a little filling in a leg this week, so we're going to take a pass."

Von Hemel will be represented in the Texas Mile with Luz De Esperanza, who earned a shot by winning his last three races, all while stepping up in class. In his latest start, the closer won a $60,000 optional claiming race at Oaklawn.

Cooking with Hal's Hope

The travels Hal's Hope has taken Rose and his wife, Elsie, on will soon be part of a cookbook.

"The Road to Hal's Hope" is scheduled to be released this summer, and will feature recipes that represent the regions in which Hal's Hope has raced. The horse is based at Calder Race Course near Miami, but has raced in Kentucky, West Viriginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas.

"I always said when Hal became a millionaire I would write a book," said Elsie Rose.