06/24/2004 11:00PM

Romans prepared for title defense

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If they unseat him, Dale Romans isn't going to go out sitting on his hands.

Romans, the Louisville native who has won or tied for the training title at each of the last four spring meets at Churchill Downs, won back-to-back races early on the Friday twilight program to nudge back into a short lead over Tom Amoss and Steve Asmussen, the men who are trying to take away what almost has become Romans's birthright.

Romans, who has led the standings most of the meet, recaptured the lead when Artemus Sunrise posted a narrow victory in the third race and Mike's Folly drew off to win the fourth. Both colts were ridden by Pat Day, and both were claimed from their respective races from the meet's leading owners, Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

On Sunday, as Churchill wraps up the next-to-last week of the meet before the final six-day stretch resumes Wednesday, Romans will have plenty of opportunity to further strengthen his position in the trainer's race when he saddles horses in six of the 10 races. Asmussen has horses in three races, while Amoss will have action in two.

One of the top contenders for Romans will come in the nominal feature, a $49,100, first-level allowance carded as the ninth race. Romans will put a racing saddle on Victory Spirit, an Alphabet Soup 3-year-old who drew post 2 in an overflow field entered in the 1 1/16-mile turf race.

, owned by Wafare Farm, is entered off a gutsy maiden win in a 1 1/4-mile race that was rained off the turf. In his previous start, when he ran respectably as the beaten favorite in a May 19 turf race, Victory Spirit hinted that he may have some ability on grass, so another try on the surface is logical. Mark Guidry gets the call.

Besides Victory Spirit, Romans also will be represented Sunday by Red Orange Cat in the third race, a bottom-level maiden-claiming race; the speedy Exploit Lad in the fifth, a $50,000 claiming race for 3-year-olds; the uncoupled duo of Wayuphi and Icanthearyou in the seventh, a competitive $30,000 claiming race for older turf horses; Watershed Event in the eighth race, an entry-level allowance route for 3-year-olds; and Nives in the 10th, a maiden sprint for 2-year-old fillies.

First post Sunday is 1:15 p.m. Eastern. The country music band Diamond Rio will be featured at the infield Beer and Barbecue Festival.