03/25/2004 12:00AM

Romans back to see filly in person

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You know that spring has sprung in Kentucky when those 18-wheeled Brookledge and Sallee vans begin pulling into Churchill Downs and Keeneland with regularity. Horses and horsemen are just now returning home from their wintertime digs, and before long, pretty much everyone will be back where they were just a few months ago.

Dale Romans, who won the most races of any trainer at the four Churchill and Keeneland meets last year, is one of the many recent returnees, having spent much of the winter in south Florida, shuttling between his split stables at Gulfstream Park and Palm Meadows. Romans left a handful of horses behind in Kentucky this winter, and when he wanted to watch them run at Turfway Park, he had to settle for simulcasting.

"I watched that last one from the Gulfstream rooftop," said Romans, referring to Strike Rate's narrow victory in the March 12 Wintergreen Stakes.

Romans will have an opportunity to watch live when Strike Rate goes for a second straight stakes win at Turfway. Strike Rate, a 4-year-old filly, runs Saturday in the $50,000 Fairway Fun, the last stakes of the long winter-spring meet at the Florence, Ky., track. Romans has two of the seven fillies and mares entered in the 1 1/16-mile Fairway Fun: Strike Rate and Angela's Love.

Romans also ran two horses in the Wintergreen, which happened to be the feature race on the night that jockey Rafael Bejarano won a track-record seven races. Bejarano rode Glitter Act for Romans in the Wintergreen, but Glitter Act faded to fourth as the odds-on favorite. Strike Rate, ridden by Tony D'Amico, rallied for a nose victory over River Flower.

"We'll take a win any way we can get it," said Romans. "Glitter Act got caught up in a speed duel, and obviously that helped our other filly."

Romans still has some horses in south Florida, but already has filled his barn at Churchill. He also will have a sizable contingent at Keeneland soon, and another 22 horses will be sent to Belmont Park.

"We're hoping for a big spring," he said.

As for the Fairway Fun, the uncoupled Romans duo figures to get its strongest challenges from Small Promises and Secondary School, both trained by Bernie Flint. Bejarano has the mount on Small Promises.

The Turfway meet runs through Thursday night. On Friday, live action resumes at Keeneland, which runs through April 23.