06/26/2003 11:00PM

Friends, Romans is home free


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Dale Romans is not fit to be tied. After sharing the training title at Churchill Downs the last three spring meets - a statistical rarity if there ever was one - Romans has pulled away from the competition at the 2003 meet and seems a certainty to have this title all to himself.

By winning three races here Thursday, Romans surpassed the all-time Churchill record for wins at a single meet (not counting 1983 and 1984, when Churchill conducted racing much deeper into the summer). Going into the Friday card, when eight of 52 days remained at the meet, Romans had won 31 races, surpassing Mark Casse's record of 29 set during a 55-day meet in 1988. This meet ends next Sunday, July 6.

"Things have gone about as well as anybody could have possibly hoped," said Romans, 36. "I had a goal of 30 wins for the meet. Horses have really stepped up, and we've had some 2-year-olds come around and do some good for us. I'm absolutely thrilled with how everything has fallen into place."

Steve Asmussen, with 18 wins, and Tom Amoss, with 17, were next behind Romans heading into the Friday card.

Romans will take a string of 28 horses to the Saratoga meet that begins July 23. Another 30 of his horses will remain stabled at Churchill.

Romans tied for the spring meet title with D. Wayne Lukas in 2000, with Bernie Flint in 2001, and with Amoss in 2002.

Typical of his dominance at the meet, Romans appears to hold an edge Sunday in the feature race, a $50,600 allowance carded as the ninth of 10 races. Romans has two of the six starters: Watch Out Boys and Vibs, both of whom figure as major contenders.

One of the main clients for Romans is Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who have won or shared the leading owner title at the last six Churchill meets (spring and fall). Unlike Romans, the Ramseys were in a tight race for leading owner with eight days left in the meet. The Ramseys had won 10 races from 52 starters, while Overbrook Farm was 9 for 38.

Ken Ramsey readily concedes that he wants to keep his track-record string of owner titles intact, so if the race remains tight into the waning days of the meet, it would come as no surprise if some of his stable's horses are spotted a notch or two below their proven value.

Unless Pat Day strings together a few of his patented four- and five-win days, it appears that Cornelio Velasquez will outlast Day in the race for leading rider.

Going into Friday, Velasquez, riding regularly at Churchill for the first time, led Day by a 50-40 count.

First Zimbabwe, now Denmark

Ipi Tombe, the Zimbabwe-bred mare who was scheduled to be the heavy favorite in the Locust Grove Handicap here Saturday, isn't the only horse currently stabled at Churchill who comes from a faraway land.

Danish Fairytale, a 3-year-old filly who finished sixth in her career debut June 8 for trainer Henry Cochran, was bred in Denmark. By a British sire out of a French mare, Danish Fairytale was bred by Hjortebo Stutteri and is owned by Leif Hempel, a resident of Canada.

"I have had a couple of inquiries about how I got a horse from Denmark, of all places," said Cochran, who explained that Hempel is friends with New York trainer Kay Jensen, who referred him to trainer Mike Freeman, who in turn referred him to Cochran.

Cochran, who soon will head to Monmouth Park with 12 horses, said he hopes to run Danish Fairytale in a maiden special weight turf race here next week.

Royal Force a promising Byrne 2-year-old

After Pat Byrne sent out Royal Force to an impressive victory here Thursday, the trainer couldn't help but think back to the fall of 1998, when he won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill with Awesome Again.

Royal Force, a 2-year-old who was making his career debut, is by Awesome Again.

"This colt reminds me a lot of his dad," said Byrne. "I think he's a really nice colt. I'll probably ship him up to Saratoga, either for an allowance race or one of the earlier stakes for 2-year-olds."

Buckram Oak Farm is the owner of Royal Force, whom Byrne called, "one of quite a few good 2-year-olds to run at this meet. We've had some really nice babies show themselves here this spring. I think they'll show how good they are as the year goes on."

Take Charge Lady to Delaware Handicap

Take Charge Lady, the star 4-year-old filly who was second last weekend in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont, has remained in New York, where she will be pointed to the July 19 Delaware Handicap, said Helen Pitts, assistant to trainer Ken McPeek.

Pitts said another McPeek star, Wild and Wicked, is being pointed to the Jim Dandy or Haskell. Wild and Wicked returned to training Friday for the first time since running his career mark to 3 for 3 by winning the Ohio Derby last weekend.

Morluc's foot improving

Morluc, the millionaire turf-sprint specialist who exited a last-place finish in the recent Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot in England with a swollen left front foot, is "almost normal again," said trainer Randy Morse, who initially feared that the 7-year-old horse had suffered a major injury.

Morse said X-rays showed no fractures and that Morluc, a winner in 11 of 40 career starts, quite possibly will be able to resume a racing career.

- Graded stakes will be carded on each of the final three days of the meet, starting with the $100,000 Debutante Stakes on Friday. Finishing out the stakes schedule will be the $250,000 Firecracker Breeders' Cup on Saturday, and the $150,000 Bashford Manor Stakes on Sunday.

- Crafty Shaw and Slider will ship to Prairie Meadows for the $350,000 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap on July 12. Also headed to Iowa that weekend is Clear Destiny, who runs in the $125,000 Iowa Distaff the preceding night.