04/23/2010 11:00PM

Romans has reason to get revved up

Barbara D. Livingston
Paddy O'Prado worked a bullet five furlongs in 58.44 seconds Friday morning.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As the son of a trainer, Dale Romans grew up around Churchill Downs. He has seen plenty of changes over the years. The twin spires no longer dominate the rooftop, there are skyboxes atop the length of the grandstand and clubhouse, and now lights encircle the track.

You can dress it up anyway you like, though, but the essence of being here remains the same, a desire to win the Kentucky Derby, and on Friday morning, Romans allowed himself to dream that dream just a little more, encouraged as he was by a sensational workout from Paddy O'Prado, who flew five furlongs in 58.44 seconds, the best time of 21 at the distance.

"That was pretty spectacular," Romans said later at his barn. "He worked good and galloped out great. It's time to start getting a little bit excited, the way he trained today."

Paddy O'Prado - who was ridden by Romans's wife, Tammy Fox - was one of four prospects for the May 1 Derby to work on Friday on a rainy morning. Ice Box, the Florida Derby winner, went a half-mile in 46.38 seconds for trainer Nick Zito, another work that was the best of the day at the distance. And a few miles away at the Trackside training center, trainer Mike Maker put five-furlong works into both Stately Victor (1:00.60), the Blue Grass winner, and Dean's Kitten (1:01.20), the winner of the Lane's End Stakes.

Paddy O'Prado was the runner-up to Stately Victor in the Blue Grass. His best efforts have been on synthetic surfaces and turf, but Romans said he believes Paddy O'Prado, a colt by the sire El Prado, will be effective on dirt. He has run just once on dirt, in his debut last July at Churchill Downs, and finished seventh of 11 when sprinting on a sloppy, sealed track.

After that, Paddy O'Prado moved to the turf, running twice on the surface at Saratoga. He posted his lone victory on turf, capturing the Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream while still a maiden.

"I wanted to run him long, and at Saratoga you could go two turns on the turf," Romans said. "I was more interested in running him two turns than I was concerned about the surface. He's really put it all together this year. But he's always had a lot of talent. He's always trained well here. He's trained here more than anywhere else. His pedigree says he should be good on either surface. We're going into this a little bit of an unknown, but it is possible he will move up on it.

"This is real exciting," Romans added. "I've been going to the Derby since I was 9. I'm 43 now. I'd like to make it a yearly event."

So would Jerry Crawford, whose Donegal Racing - named for the Irish county from which his ancestors hail - manages and is the majority owner of the 10-member Paddy O'Prado partnership. Fittingly, Crawford calls the partnership Derby Dreams.

"We only buy yearlings who can get a classic distance," Crawford said. "This colt was one of eight that we bought at the yearling sales in 2008, when the market dropped. We spent a touch over $500,000, which is what you'd have had to pay for one a year earlier."

Romans and Zito both said they contemplated postponing their works because of the inclement weather Friday, but thought the track condition might worsen over the next few days if predicted storms materialize.

"We were going to work [Saturday]," Romans said. "But I figured it was better to work on this track after three hours of rain rather than two days."

Zito said he was "a little apprehensive" about working Ice Box, but preferred to work on Friday, and thought the track satisfactory despite the rain.

Ice Box, under exercise rider Megan Smillie, worked in company with barnmate Morning Line and pulled away from his workmate at the end of the drill and while galloping out.

"I'm very, very, very happy, especially with the way he galloped out," Zito said. "He just kept going. I wanted a harder work out of him today because I thought he might have to dart for a hole" in the 20-horse Derby field.

Maker said "everything went perfect" with his duo, who both worked in company, but not with one another.

Stately Victor was a 40-1 upset winner of the Blue Grass in an explosive performance, winning by 4 1/4 lengths.

"He's always trained well," Maker said. "I can't say he's doing any different than before the Blue Grass. He's always been impressive in his training. That's why we never gave up on him."

Maker said both Stately Victor and Dean's Kitten are required by Churchill Downs to be in the Churchill stable area by Thursday, so they will make the brief van ride following training hours that morning.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch