06/26/2003 12:00AM

Roman Romance still paying dividends


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Three years ago, John Simms, in his second year as a trainer, struck a deal to buy three unraced 2-year-old fillies from the stable of prominent owner Steve Stavro.

Stavro, then boss of the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs and National Basketball Association's Toronto Raptors, was downsizing and sold the package for $20,000.

To improve his small customer base, Simms, who had retired from the Toronto police force a year earlier, involved several of his clients in the purchase. Though it was fall, Simms tried getting two of the babies to the races that year.

"One [Issus] had a tear in the tendon - they were straight with me - and never did make it to the races," he said.

"Wiry Willie started near the end of the year and ran third in a maiden allowance," Simms went on. "Last year, she won the Lauries Dancer Stakes here. We lost her for $50,000 in a claimer at Woodbine."

The third member of the deal, Roman Romance, went directly to a farm.

"She was huge," said Simms. "She looked like a big overgrown kid. "I wanted to let her grow and develop more in the bones and that kind of stuff. It was the best thing I ever did."

Roman Romance, now 5, is a contender in the Centre Stage Anne Stakes at Fort Erie on Tuesday. A winner of five races, she has already earned $273,217. The mare ran second, only a neck away from winning the $128,000 Ballade, at Woodbine June 11.

"Talk of low maintenance," said Simms. "If you added up her vet bill for her whole career you couldn't buy a ham sandwich for that amount. I mean [it's] nothing. She's like the Rock of Gibraltar. What a dream."

Simms enters the weekend in fifth-place in the trainer standings, four wins behind co-leaders Layne Giliforte and Tom Agosti, who have 18 each.

Miss Filibuster might try Bison City

With the prospect of a small field for Tuesday's $250,000 Bison City Stakes, trainer Paul Nielsen is contemplating running his one-time starter Miss Filibuster in a race that is the second jewel of Canada's Triple Tiara.

Miss Filibuster, a half-sister to last year's Canadian champion 3-year-old Le Cinquieme Essai, finished second in a race for maidens here June 16. She has since, however, been declared the winner. In an Ontario Racing Commission ruling dated June 24, the first-place finisher in that race, Sanderling, was declared unplaced for not having been tattooed at the time of entry.

"I was pretty happy with what she [Miss Filibuster] did," said Nielsen. "She galloped out really, really strong. That's what I wanted as well. She kind of knows what this game is all about."

Nielsen prepared Miss Filibuster at Payson Park in Florida over the winter. Another filly that he had at the Florida training center is Le Tulipe. A promising daughter of Silver Deputy, she is scheduled to make her debut Monday.

Le Cinquieme Essai's next start is likely to be the Benburb Stakes, a supporting feature to the Prince of Wales Stakes here July 20.

Trainer Frost lands first winner

Trainer Leslie Frost, 25, scored his first career win Tuesday, when Eilunebs Dream won the eighth race, a $25,000 claimer on the turf. It was the 10th runner he sent to the post.

Said Frost, "My dad [George] has had horses all my life, and I've worked with a vet before."

His sister Tammy is an apprentice jockey and exercise rider. Frost was an assistant trainer for Tino Attard for a few years, and for Robbie King for a year. He has five horses, and trains them on a farm.