01/23/2017 1:26PM

Romans hoping to slay giants with longshot Prayer for Relief in Pegasus

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Barbara D. Livingston
Prayer for Relief went off at 96-1 in the Nov. 25 Clark Handicap.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The inclination is to scoff and ridicule. Go ahead, says Dale Romans. Racing fans have done it before.

“Wayne Lukas told me he’s made millions of dollars running horses where people said they didn’t belong,” said Romans, who will saddle the longshot Prayer for Relief for the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

On paper, Prayer for Relief doesn’t seem to belong in the same zip code as California Chrome and Arrogate, let alone the same starting gate. But when a field of 12 lines up for the inaugural Pegasus, they’ll all be in there together.

“His recent form is terrible, but you sure wouldn’t know it by the way he’s trained,” Romans said. “He’s out here jumping and playing every morning.”

Prayer for Relief, a 9-year-old horse, has earned more than $2 million for owner Zayat Stables in a 45-race career that began with Bob Baffert in July 2010. From ages 3 to 5, he won six stakes – three for Baffert, then three for Steve Asmussen, who trained him for about 18 months until Romans assumed his care in the spring of 2014.

He ran a couple of big races, including a runner-up finish in the 2014 Pimlico Special, but never won in 10 starts for Romans before being sent to Dubai, where he went 0 for 6 for Michael de Kock. Returned to Romans last year, Prayer for Relief was just awful in two starts, ending with a 33-length drubbing at 96-1 in the Nov. 25 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Fate intervened when Jeff Weiss, the Miami real-estate mogul who bought one of the $1 million starting spots in the Pegasus, spotted Justin Zayat in the lunch line at the September yearling sale at Keeneland. Weiss, heretofore a neophyte in the racing business, needed a horse to fill his slot.

“We were joking that it’d be nice to have American Pharoah in my spot,” said Weiss, referring to the 2015 Triple Crown winner owned by the Zayat family. “But after we got to talking, he recommended I call his dad.”

A few months later, Weiss and Ahmed Zayat entered into a joint-venture agreement under which Prayer for Relief will represent Weiss in the Pegasus in a one-time-only deal. Romans was agreeable to preparing Prayer for Relief as best he could.

“I mean, I know we’re up against it,” Romans said. “I can read the Form. We’ll be one of the longest shots in field, if not the longest shot, period, maybe over 99-1.

“But this horse has run well over this track before, he worked great here [Saturday], and I really believe he’s back to himself. He’s acting like a 4-year-old, not a 9-year-old. Nobody else in this race matches up to California Chrome and Arrogate, so we’re all hoping for third or fourth. I’d be tickled to get one more big effort out of him.”

Prayer for Relief was sent through his final prerace work last Saturday at Gulfstream, going five furlongs in 1:00.80.

“I thought he looked great doing it,” Romans said.

Romans, the Eclipse Award winner for outstanding trainer in 2012, has been known to pull a stunner on racing’s biggest days. He not only has the distinction of being the last trainer to defeat American Pharoah (with Keen Ice in the 2015 Travers) but also the great Wise Dan (with Silver Max in the 2013 Shadwell Mile).

Some of his other notable upsets include Court Vision (64-1) in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Mile, Little Mike (17-1) in the 2012 BC Turf, Shackleford (12-1) in the 2011 Preakness, and Dawn of War (36-1) as a maiden in the 2005 Breeders’ Futurity.

This, however, would top them all.

“The old saying about you can’t win it unless you’re in it is true,” Romans said. “We’ve got a better chance than anybody not in the race.”