08/30/2003 12:00AM

Blushing Indian looks solid for Romans


CINCINNATI - Dale Romans already has won training titles at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, so perhaps the next logical step for him is to come up with a horse to take him down the Kentucky Derby trail.

It remains to be seen whether that horse is Blushing Indian. But when the signature race of the River Downs meet, the $200,000 Cradle Stakes, is run Monday, there is a strong likelihood that Blushing Indian will emerge the winner - and thereby tempt Romans to start thinking about bigger and better things.

Blushing Indian will be ridden by Robby Albarado and break from post 1 in a field of 10 2-year-olds in the Cradle, a 1 1/16-mile race that represents one of the initial two-turn opportunities in North America for stakes-caliber juveniles.

"One of the main reasons for pointing to this race was the two turns. Plus the money, plus we don't have to run against anything of Pletcher's," said Romans, referring to how trainer Todd Pletcher has dominated 2-year-old racing at Saratoga.

In his latest of three career starts, the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes on July 24 at Saratoga, Blushing Indian rallied to finish second behind the Pletcher-trained Chapel Royal.

Romans, who said he planned to be at River Downs on Monday after spending most of the last six weeks at Saratoga, said he is hopeful the Cradle will provide a springboard to further accomplishment for Blushing Indian. The most notable Cradle graduate was 1985 Derby winner Spend a Buck. In more recent years, horses such as Peaks and Valleys, Tejano Run, Mighty, Mongoose, Harlan's Holiday, and Lone Star Sky have run in the Cradle.

Probably the top threats to Blushing Indian in the Cradle are two colts trained by another prominent Kentucky trainer, Elliott Walden. Lightnin N Thunder finished third in the Ellis Park Juvenile in his last start, while Tiger Hunt won his only previous start, a July 5 maiden race at Churchill Downs.

One other plausible contender is Texas Deputy, a 9 1/2-length winner of the Aug. 9 Cradle prep for Bernie Flint.

The rest of the field is Another Freddy, Cash Button, Organizing Chaos, Harbor Music, Cherniavsky, and Willing Way.

The Cradle has been sponsored by Miller Genuine Draft since the race was first run in 1977, making it the longest continuously sponsored Thoroughbred race in North America. The race highlights closing day of the spring-summer meet at River Downs.