05/11/2008 11:00PM

Jolley has unique perspective


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - If anyone would have a legitimate historical perspective on the tragedy that befell Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, it would be Leroy Jolley.

After all, it was Jolley who trained 1975 Derby winner Foolish Pleasure to run head and head with the freakishly fast Ruffian through the opening quarter of their doomed match race that summer. It was Jolley who five years later won the Kentucky Derby with the filly Genuine Risk, marking the first time it happened in 65 years. And it was Jolley who had to watch helplessly, two weeks later, as Genuine Risk was manhandled by eventual winner Codex on the final turn of the 1980 Preakness. The filly still finished second.

"I guess you can say I've been on both sides of that fence," Jolley said recently, from his training base at Saratoga.

A call to Jolley can lead down a lot of roads, beginning with an unlucky Preakness history that includes not only the mugging of Genuine Risk - which prompted a formal protest into the Pimlico stewards' lack of action - but also two other runnings that were just as hard to swallow.

In 1962, the 24-year-old Jolley saddled the imposing Ridan and lost by a nose to Greek Money. Manuel Ycaza, who rode Ridan, let the winner through at the top of the stretch and even shot a desperate elbow at John Rotz, Greek Money's rider, nearing the wire. Ycaza then had the nerve to claim a foul, which was quickly disallowed, and he was subsequently suspended 10 days for a frivolous objection.

In 1975, fresh from his victory in the Derby, Foolish Pleasure ran every bit as hard in the Preakness. Master Derby got the jump, though, and Foolish Pleasure was left with too much to do. He was closing fast, but lost by a length.

There is not much doubt that this Saturday's running of the Preakness will be overwhelmed by images of the Eight Belles breakdown in the wake of the Derby. Jolley, while not a participant in either race, was as stunned as any observer when the filly went down.

"It was just a horrible, unfortunate situation," Jolley said. "You know, that filly ran a tremendous race. I went over and looked at her about a week before the Derby. Believe me, her legs were as sound and clean as a horse could possibly be. She ran so hard that it's possible she got so exhausted she lost some coordination."

As far as the virulent backlash to racing in the wake of the Derby, Jolley can only comment from a lifetime of handling the animals.

"I think the horses are pretty much the same," he said. "I think one of the reasons we feel they're more fragile is because we've put a lot of pretty harsh conditions on them. Still, I don't think some people understand the unbelievable amounts of money and care that goes into taking care of these horses. If all the children in the world were as well cared for as the racehorses, there probably wouldn't be any wars."

Jolley made news the week before the Derby with the announcement that Manila, his male grass champion of 1986, was elected to the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame. A son of Lyphard, Manila won 12 of 18 races and was worse than second only once, in his first start, on dirt at Saratoga as a 2-year-old. As far as Jolley was concerned, Manila also was the the poster child for patience.

"He started out as a smallish kind of a horse," Jolley said. "As a baby, from about November of his yearling year, we had him at Payson Park, and of the 24 babies we had at the time, he was kind of the tail-dragger. But as he matured, and got older, he learned how to run. He did mature as a 4-year-old into a great big stout horse. But it took a long time. Time was the most valuable thing in him getting to become the horse he was."

Time is something a lot of horses are not given these days, what with the rush to make a Breeders' Cup at 2 and the Kentucky Derby at 3. Jolley observed that the public trainer who suggests passing such goals can be flirting with his own downfall.

"Unfortunately, today the consequences are mostly very severe in those cases," he said.

Manila is referred to as a "late-blooming" 3-year-old, as if he missed the party and had to settle for something less than his rightful heritage. Baloney. The game needs more such late-bloomers.

By the time the 1986 Breeders' Cup Turf was run at Santa Anita that November, the year's Triple Crown race winners - Ferdinand, Snow Chief, and Danzig Connection - all were on the sidelines. That left Manila alone among North America's top 3-year-olds to stand tall against a field that included Theatrical (winner of the 1987 BC Turf), champion mare Estrapade (winner of the 1986 Arlington Million), and 1986 Arc de Triomphe winner Dancing Brave. Manila won by a neck, even with trouble in deep stretch.

"That was certainly the best field of horses that I ever ran in," Jolley said. "It was an unbelievable group. But he was a fighter. Really, really a terrific horse."

All he needed was time.