Jimmy Croll, a hall of fame trainer who handled the champion racehorses Bet Twice and Holy Bull, died Friday at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., after a long illness. He was 88.
Croll died on the eve of the 21st anniversary of one of his biggest wins. In the 1987 Belmont Stakes, Bet Twice thwarted Alysheba’s bid for racing’s Triple Crown with a 14-length victory under jockey Craig Perret.
Holy Bull was another notable champion. Voted horse of the year as a 3-year-old in 1994, he was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby but wound up finishing 12th. His victories that year included the Florida Derby, the Blue Grass, the Metropolitan Handicap, the Woodward, the Travers and the Haskell.
In 1997, Croll told The Times that he believed Holy Bull had been drugged before the Derby, resulting in his poor performance.
“It’s not something you can prove, but I’m sure the Derby was not a true race,” Croll said in a later interview. “Holy Bull was never defeated again until he broke down.”
Holy Bull, who was elected to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 2001, suffered a career-ending injury in the 1995 Donn Handicap but has gone on to be a successful sire. One of his sons, Giacomo, won the 2005 Kentucky Derby.
Croll’s other champions were Parka, a horse he claimed for $10,000 that became the top male turf horse of 1965; Forward Gal, the best 2-year-old filly of 1970; and Housebuster, the top sprinter in 1990 and ’91.
He also trained Mr. Prospector, who became one of the top sires in thoroughbred history.
Croll, whose given name was Warren, was born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., on March 9, 1920. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and planned to become a veterinarian. However, after two years, he left to work at Monmouth Park racetrack in New Jersey, obtaining his trainer’s license in 1940.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Croll returned to Monmouth Park and became a permanent fixture there.
Croll, named to racing’s hall of fame in 1994, turned over the day-to-day operation of his stable to his son, Bill, in 2002 but remained active as an owner.
“It’s a great loss,” Bill Croll told bloodhorse.com. “He was sharp mentally until the day he died.”
Besides his son, Croll is survived by his wife, Bobbi, and his daughter, Nancy.