03/15/2007 12:00AM

‘Promise’ must prove himself


Dale Romans isn't concerned about the WinStar Derby being an ungraded race. If Solemn Promise, the colt he is shipping to Sunland Park for the $600,000 race on Sunday, "shows he's worthy of hitting the Kentucky Derby trail by winning this race, we'll be sure to find a graded race for him next time," said Romans.

Solemn Promise, owned by race sponsor WinStar Farm, drew post 2 in a field of eight 3-year-olds entered Thursday for the WinStar Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race still trying to find its niche among the crowded pack of Kentucky Derby prep races. Officials at Sunland would dearly love to have the WinStar Derby earn a grade, because its rich purse then would be all the more attractive to horsemen with Kentucky Derby prospects. Graded earnings determine whether or not a horse makes the cut in case more than 20 try to enter the Derby.

Romans, currently based in south Florida, said he is more interested in seeing whether Solemn Promise even deserves being mentioned in Derby discussions. In his first and only start, a six-furlong maiden race on Feb. 10 at Gulfstream Park, Solemn Promise drew off impressively to win by 4 1/2 lengths, earning an 86 Beyer Speed Figure.

Solemn Promise, a $375,000 2-year-old purchase, "has a lot going for him," said Romans. "He's not very seasoned, but he's smart and mentally tough. We look for him to improve with this distance."

Romans is one of three trainers with a national reputation who have at least one starter in the fifth running of the WinStar Derby. Bob Baffert, who won the race last year with Wanna Runner, will be on hand to saddle Law Breaker, while Steve Asmussen will be represented by the uncoupled duo of Takedown and Forty Grams.

The rest of the lineup consists of Congo Bay, Jack Hes Tops, Song of Navarone, and Game of Skill.

The WinStar Derby is scheduled to be shown live on ESPNews, with post time set for 4:45 p.m. Mountain. It is carded as the ninth of 12 races and is one of four stakes to be run on the card. In those other stakes:

* Tough Tiz's Sis, with Victor Espinoza riding for Baffert, drew the inside post as the likely favorite for the $200,000 WinStar Sunland Oaks (race 8), a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies. Other major contenders in a field of nine include Swiss Current (post 3) and Nice Inheritance (post 6).

* Baffert and Asmussen have the top contenders in Babe Hall and Eyes on Eddy, respectively, in the $150,000 Harry W. Henson Breeders' Cup Handicap (race 7), a one-mile race that drew nine older fillies and mares.

* A full field of 12 was entered in the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby (race 11) for 3-year-old state-breds at a mile.