12/10/2004 12:00AM

Romans has year to remember

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Trainer Dale Romans did not have a starter in last weekend's Hollywood Turf Cup, but the outcome of the race likely provided a horse he trains with a championship. When Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now finished sixth behind Pellegrino that day, it solidified Kitten's Joy's status as the favorite for the Eclipse Award as outstanding turf horse.

Now Romans - who trained Kitten's Joy to six stakes wins in 2004, including two Grade 1's - must await the voting results, which will be announced in a ceremony at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan 24. Kitten's Joy's owners - Ken and Sarah Ramsey - are contenders for an Eclipse as outstanding owners.

If Kitten's Joy becomes a champion, Romans would consider it the highlight of his career. "And hopefully with more to come," he said.

Romans can take pride in a banner 2004. Through Thursday, his stable had won 108 of its 554 starts (19 percent) and amassed earnings of more than $7 million. The earnings are a career best for him, and the win total is just off his 113-win year in 2004, his winningest year.

A promising 2005 may follow. Romans said Kitten's Joy is expected to make a full recovery from recent knee surgery, and his Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Roses in May is being pointed toward races such as the Donn Handicap and Dubai World Cup.

Also, Halory Leigh, a dual graded stakes winner this fall at Churchill Downs, gives him a rising player in the filly and mare division. She will likely run one time in Florida this winter before being pointed toward the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on the Kentucky Derby undercard, he said.

D'Amico gets financial and emotional boost

Jockey Tony D'Amico, who broke his shoulder in five places in a spill during the early part of the Churchill Downs fall meet, has begun physical therapy toward his recovery. "I'm doing good," he said Friday. "My shoulder is still sore, but the pain is not as bad."

He said he was touched by the generosity of horsemen, who raised more than $10,000 in recent weeks to go toward his medical expenses. His medical bills exceeded the $100,000 in medical insurance coverage provided by Churchill Downs, he said. "From my family and me, I want to thank everyone - the jockeys, the owners, and the trainers."

D'Amico said he has no timetable for his return to riding. He said his shoulder was completely blown out, requiring the insertion of two plates. The injury is just the latest in a long string of setbacks for D'Amico, who has undergone neck and spinal operations in a career plagued by injuries.

Stewart protege Cox goes on his own

Brad Cox, 24, is not unlike many people his age. He spent the last four years studying, and now he is leaping into the business world. Except Cox is a horse trainer, and his four-year education came not at a university, but as an assistant to trainer Dallas Stewart.

Last Saturday he won his first race when One Lucky Storm won a $30,000 claiming race by a nose at Turfway. "It was time to give it a try," he said. "I had a few owners tell me they'd help me out."

Cox has three horses in his Churchill Downs-based stable, though he hopes to add a few more by the end of the month. He believes his experience with Stewart gave him the foundation he needed. "It was very educational," he said. "You learn a good horse from a bad horse, [problems] you can race with and what you can't."

* A racing rarity occurred in the last race Wednesday when a horse won at odds greater than 100-1. Busisa, the longest shot in the maiden $5,000 claiming race, won by three lengths, paying $205.20. Eddie Zuniga rode her for trainer Steve Tippett and owner Beeline Blockstock Inc.

* The feature Sunday is the eighth race, a $35,000 claiming race for fillies and mares at six furlongs. Ready and Tough, stakes placed in the Gowell Stakes at Turfway in 2003, is the favorite following a close third-place finish against $40,000 claimers at Churchill Downs on Nov. 12.