05/17/2013 12:49PM

Churchill Downs: Romans thinking positive despite slump

Four-Footed Fotos
Cozzetti will have a start at Churchill Downs “real soon,” said trainer Dale Romans.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Dale Romans does not dispute that if someone had cut him a deal a long time ago – that if in one glorious year his horses were to win 20 graded stakes and nearly $12 million and he would be voted the Eclipse Award for top trainer – then, yes, he would gladly accept a major downturn the following year.

“I would’ve agreed to that, sure,” he said.

Well, all ends of the deal are being met. With all of his 2012 stable stars having retired or run poorly so far this year, it has been a particularly unproductive – by his own standards, anyway – first few months of 2013 for the 46-year-old trainer.

“We’re in regroup mode,” Romans said this week in his Churchill Downs office. “But we’re not dead, not by any means. I really feel like we’re gearing up for a big second half of the season.”

Into Friday action, Romans had won 28 races in 2013 for earnings of less than $1.1 million, mere fractions of the 125 wins (including 20 graded stakes) and career-high stable earnings of $11.8 million he racked up last year before proudly accepting his Eclipse in January.

Gone to retirement are Shack­leford, his 2011 Preakness winner and $3-million earner, as well as Tapitsfly and Afleeting Lady. The two horses he took to Dubai, Little Mike and Dullahan, both ran poorly there and have been in light training at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky., although both probably will ship into his Churchill barn within the next week or so to resume more serious training, said Romans.

“The trip to Dubai was really tough on Little Mike,” he said. “But I’m expecting both back for big fall campaigns.”

Romans said he is also “very optimistic” that the latter half of the year will be good to Cozzetti, a gray 4-year-old who won the American Derby last summer at Arlington Park but hasn’t raced since September.

“He’s going to run here at Churchill real soon,” said Romans. “I really feel like he’s going to step up and be one of the big horses by the end of the year.”

Romans has been somewhat active, but decidedly ineffective, in the upper ranks this year: His record in graded stakes is 0 for 22. Aside from Dullahan and Little Mike, horses such as Silver Max, Private Ensign, Class Included, Dewey Square, O’Prado Again, and Pick of the Litter all have disappointed so far. His 1-for-28 start to the Churchill spring meet also is far, far below what is normal for him.

“A lot of our horses are eligible to improve by year’s end,” he said. “You have a year like we did last year, sure, it’s hard to sustain. But we’ve got some unstarted 2-year-olds that I really like, and some of these good horses will be back in the entries soon. We’ll have our full c ontingent at Saratoga this summer, and we’ll be back humming on all cylinders before you know it.”