01/11/2010 12:00AM

Romans barn deep with talent

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Sassy Image won the Golden Rod on dirt, but could run on turf in the Sweetest Chant.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Any talk regarding 3-year-old fillies in the Dale Romans barn automatically starts with his Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Tapitsfly. But she's not the only stakes-winning 3-year-old filly under his shed.

Romans's potent arsenal also includes Sassy Image, a daughter of Broken Vow who closed out her 2-year-old campaign with easy victories at Churchill Downs in the Grade 3 Pocahontas and Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes. Sassy Image could make her 3-year-old debut in Sunday's one-mile Sweetest Chant Stakes. She could be joined by Tapitsfly in the one-mile grass race.

Sassy Image tuned up for her 3-year-old debut here Monday by breezing a sharp five furlongs from the half-mile to the one-mile pole in 1:01.90 over a track that remained deep and tiring from Saturday's daylong rains. She completed her final quarter in 24.72 seconds while under some mild urging around the clubhouse turn.

"She worked good, and better yet looked good doing it," Romans said shortly after Sassy Image finished cooling out on a crisp morning that featured record-setting low temperatures in the 30s in the Miami area. "The problem now is figuring out what to do with her. I don't want to turn her back to seven furlongs for the Forward Gal and there just aren't any long races for her on the main track here until later in the meet. The turf race this weekend is one option. I could possibly run one or maybe even both of my fillies in there. I won't decide until later in the week."

While Sassy Image would be going from dirt to turf if she does start in the Sweetest Chant, Romans's top 3-year-old male prospect, Lost Aptitude, will be taking the opposite tack when he goes in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 20. Lost Aptitude has won 3 of his last 4 starts, including the Grand Canyon at Churchill Downs on turf to conclude his 2-year-old campaign, but was beaten as the odds-on favorite by Fly by Phil in the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby over a boggy grass course at Calder on New Year's Day.

"I was very disappointed that he got beat at Calder, although he showed me enough in the race to give him a shot against the big boys to see if he handles the dirt in the Fountain of Youth," said Romans.

Lost Aptitude breezed an easy half-mile in 50.80 seconds shortly after Sassy Image on Monday.

The Sweetest Chant is one of three stakes races carded for the grass here this weekend, along with Saturday's Dania Beach for 3-year-olds and the Marshua's River for older fillies and mares. Among the other noteworthy nominees to the Sweetest Chant are Rose Catherine, runner-up behind Tapitsfly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and her stablemate the Grade 3 winner Ailalea; the multiple Grade 1 placed Amen Hallelujah; and the Grade 3 turf winner The Mailet.

Entries for the Sweetest Chant will be drawn on Thursday.

Contessa returns a winner

It has been a long time since trainer Gary Contessa stabled a string of horses full time in south Florida. But for Contessa, it was worth the wait when his Hatfield captured Saturday's Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint.

"I was stabled at Hialeah in 1993 and raced and had a pretty good meet at Gulfstream that winter," Contessa said by phone from New York on Monday. "That was the last time I was down there. This was the first winter since then that I had the right combination of horses to come back."

Contessa has 15 horses stabled at Gulfstream and plans to fill out the rest of his 18 allotted stalls shortly. Hatfield is the best of the bunch, although the trainer still has high hopes for Starforaday, who finished fourth one race earlier on Saturday in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector.

Hatfield won the Turf Sprint over a yielding course, which Contessa felt gave his colt a distinct advantage over the other key contenders in the race.

"To be honest, I was surprised management kept the race on the grass," said Contessa. "I kept waiting for the announcement - one which fortunately never came - that they were taking it off, because I was planning to switch his shoes if he had to run on a sloppy main track. He's a little horse, he doesn't go 700 pounds soaking wet, and I think smaller, lighter-moving horses like Hatfield do better on soft turf courses, which kind of suck you under."

Contessa says he plans to keep Hatfield on the grass this season with the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs the main goal.

"He's kind of a fragile horse," Contessa said. "He had surgery to take chips out of his ankles last spring, and I think racing on the grass will help keep him sounder. Besides, it's kind of a bonus plan if his race is taken off the turf, because he can run on dirt, too. The Breeders' Cup is so far down the road I really don't want to think about it too much now. I just hope I can keep him together until then."

Persistently looks like old self

The allowance victory by the 4-year-old filly Persistently on Sunday was the first for the Phipps Stable homebred since she won her maiden at Saratoga during the summer of 2008.

Persistently, who finished second in both the Grade 1 Frizette and Grade 2 Matron at 2, started just twice as a 3-year-old last year. She closed out the abbreviated campaign finishing a fast-closing second in a six-furlong allowance dash at Aqueduct on Nov. 15.

"It took me a long time to get her back where I wanted to be last year, and then after the good race in New York we just decided to wait until we got down here to run her again," said trainer Shug McGaughey on Monday. "I thought she ran very well yesterday, and hopefully everything will go right for her now. I'd love to be able to get another conditioned allowance race for her here, with the Rampart in mind later in the meet."

* Track management has announced a change in the racing schedule for the 2010 meet with racing on Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and Feb. 18 (Presidents Day), formerly dark days on the calendar. The last two Wednesdays of the meet, April 14 and 21, now are slated to be dark.

* Munnings, who was scratched from Saturday's Mr. Prospector because of the sloppy track, worked four furlongs in 50.60 seconds at Palm Meadows on Monday.