02/09/2007 1:00AM

Owner and namesake take next step

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Lawrence the Roman flies toward the wire an 11-length winner in the Damon Runyon Stakes.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Lawrence Roman nearly let the big horse get away.

Though he is one of three men listed as the breeder of the talented colt named Lawrence the Roman, Roman, the human, had to buy the horse back through the auction ring. And he is certainly glad he did.

After watching Lawrence the Roman gallop to three victories from as many starts, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. told Roman he believes he has a potential Kentucky Derby horse in his stable. Lawrence the Roman will try to take another step down the Derby trail on Saturday when the New York-bred son of Point Given makes his first start against open company in the $65,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct.

Lawrence the Roman is 3 for 3, having won three statebred races by a combined 25 1/4 lengths. But it was his 11-length score in the Damon Runyon Stakes on Dec. 10 that caught the attention of Dutrow and Roman.

"It was after the Damon Runyon that Rick said he thinks this is a Kentucky Derby horse," Roman said. "He said he is planning this horse for the Kentucky Derby. I do everything on a race-by-race basis."

If Roman does get to Churchill Downs on May 5, he will certainly have a story to tell. Roman, a third-generation plumbing contractor who owns WDF Inc., one New York City's leading plumbing and mechanical contracting services companies, is a longtime owner of Standardbred horses.

He sold his previous contracting company in the late 1980's for a huge profit and eventually got into the Thoroughbred business in the mid-1990's. He and two business partners agreed to put up $100,000 apiece. The partnership bought two horses, including Carly Lee and Wholesale Harry. Carly Lee won 4 of 15 races and earned $117,650. Wholesale Harry went 0 for 6 for Roman before being claimed away for $75,000.

By the time Carly Lee was bred to Point Given and produced a foal in 2004, Roman's partners wanted out of the game. So the decision was made to put the foal in the Saratoga preferred yearling sale in August 2005. Roman intended to buy the horse back, but said he forgot the horse was in that sale. Becky Thomas of Sequel Bloodstock bought the horse for $22,000. She put the horse back in the Ocala Breeders' Sales auction the following March, and Roman bought him for $35,000.

"I was honestly ready to go to $200,000 or maybe more," Roman said. "I never wanted to sell the horse in the first place."

Roman gave the horse to Dutrow. The people who break horses for Dutrow in Florida told him that this horse was as good as Silver Train, whom Dutrow saddled to win the 2005 Breeders' Cup Sprint and 2006 Metropolitan Handicap.

When this horse was ready to race, Roman needed to come up with a name. All of the names he submitted were already taken, so he decided to name the horse after himself.

"I've never named a horse after myself," Roman said. "I said you know what, 'Lawrence the Roman,' that sounds good. I didn't know the horse was going to be a really good horse. Nobody had the name, and it's exciting to listen to your name, especially that first race."

Lawrence the Roman debuted on Sept. 27 at Belmont in a six-furlong race. Under Edgar Prado, Lawrence the Roman broke slowly, raced four wide down the backstretch, and with Prado simply waving his stick at him, cruised home a four-length winner. In his second start, a one-mile statebred allowance race on Nov. 16, Lawrence the Roman again broke slowly, under Cornelio Velasquez, sat just off two speed horses, and galloped on his own to the lead en route to a 10-length score.

In the Damon Runyon, Roman discussed with jockey Mike Smith the idea of putting the horse on the lead because of the speed-favoring nature of the track. Lawrence the Roman easily struck the front entering the first turn, maintained a slight advantage down the backstretch, and put the field away entering the far turn. He covered 1o1/16 miles in 1:44.48 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 96.

"The horse had his head turned toward the rail like he was waiting for another horse to get up to him," Roman said. "As [Premier Perfection] comes up the inside, he straightens his head out, then he goes on and wins by 11 lengths. He wants to run, he wants competition - that's when I got high on the horse. I love a horse that is a fighter."

It will catch the attention of many handicappers that Prado, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby, is giving up a Saturday at Gulfstream Park to ride Lawrence the Roman in the Whirlaway.

"First of all, I ride for Dutrow, he's been one of my biggest supporters over the years," Prado said. "He asked me to go ride the horse. The horse is a very nice horse. I remember when I broke his maiden, I was very impressed. He hasn't done anything wrong. Hopefully, he stays undefeated."