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Romans ready for an encore after career-best 2011
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. − There were years in which he won more races, and one year in which he captured more graded stakes. But as far as Dale Romans is concerned, 2011 was the best of his 26-year training career.
Romans, 45, won a personal-best six Grade 1 races with five horses in 2011. He won his first classic, the Preakness, with Shackleford, and his second Breeders’ Cup race when Court Vision upset the Mile at 64-1. Two of his horses, Shackleford and two-time Grade 1 winner Sassy Image, were finalists for Eclipse Awards.
“Best year, by far, I ever had,” said Romans, whose stable earned a personal-best $7.6 million from 87 wins, 106 seconds, and 78 thirds out of 603 starters. “It’s going to be hard to top.”
But that doesn’t mean Romans isn’t going to try. At first glance, it would seem as if Romans − whose stable comprises 100 horses among operations in Florida, Kentucky, and New York − has the ammunition to have another terrific year in 2012.
Coming off a year in which he won $1.98 million despite going 2 for 10, Shackleford enters 2012 as the anchor to the stable. He is set to kick off his 4-year-old campaign in Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.
It was a head loss in the Florida Derby at odds of 68-1 to Dialed In that propelled Shackleford down the Triple Crown trail. After finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby, he won the Preakness and ran fifth in the Belmont Stakes.
Though he may not have won often in 2011, Shackleford made all the big dances, running in seven Grade 1 races. Properly spotted, Shackleford could be poised to have another big year.
“I think he can be a really good miler, but I think he can go further than that,” Romans said. “There’s bigger money going further. He did win at a mile and three-sixteenths. He ran well at a mile and an eighth here last year.”
Romans said how Shackleford fares in the Donn could determine how ambitious Romans and his owners want to get. Shackleford is expected to face the likes of Belmont winner Ruler On Ice, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, multiple stakes winner Redeemed, and undefeated Trickmeister. A big performance could propel him to the $10 million Dubai World Cup next month.
“We’re going to see how he handles himself in the Donn and then go from there,” Romans said. “It’s a long year. A lot of options.”
Romans didn’t pick up Court Vision until late August, and two starts later Court Vision upset the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. Court Vision was retired after the win, but Romans may already have a replacement in Little Mike, who has come back from a condylar fracture to win two races this winter at Gulfstream, including the Sunshine Millions Turf on Jan. 28.
While it is true Little Mike has enjoyed his most success at Gulfstream, Romans said he believes Little Mike can be a force in the turf division if he can stay sound the entire year.
“He’s the key to the stable this year,” Romans said. “I think he could be at least the best turf miler in the country when it’s all said and done.”
With the Breeders’ Cup being held at Santa Anita in November, Little Mike could get a chance to get a race over the turf course if he starts next in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita on March 3. His other option is the Grade 3, $150,000 Canadian Turf at Gulfstream the same day.
A big key to last year’s stable success was Sassy Image, who won two Grade 1 stakes for filly and mare sprinters before suffering an injury during the running of the Ballerina at Saratoga. Sassy Image, owned by Dale’s brother Jerry, was put through the auction ring last November but was bought back by Romans for $1.5 million. She was recently put back in training at Palm Meadows with the goal of making it to the Humana Distaff − a race she won last year − at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.
“We can always sell her later,” Dale Romans said. “We’ve got more to do. With my brother owning her, she’s been a lot of fun for us all. Hopefully, she can come back and have another big year.”
Of course, Romans is eager to get back to the Kentucky Derby, a race in which he finished third in 2010 with Paddy O’Prado and fourth last year with Shackleford.
Though he lost Remsen Stakes winner O’Prado Again to injury, Romans still has several 3-year-olds he believes can get him back on the Triple Crown trail.
Dullahan won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall as a maiden and came back to run fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over the Churchill Downs dirt main track. After trailing the field of 13 early, Dullahan rallied and was beaten six lengths by Hansen.
Romans said Dullahan would probably have a two-race campaign before the Derby, beginning with the Palm Beach Stakes on turf March 11 and the Blue Grass over Keeneland’s synthetic surface.
If he gets to the Derby that way, Dullahan will enter the race having never won on dirt. Romans said he doesn’t view that as a big issue.
“I think his Breeders’ Cup race is better than it looks,” Romans said. “He really got bumped around going into the first turn, was pushed back to last, and made up a lot of ground. He showed he can overcome. He didn’t throw in the towel, he kept coming.”
Romans said the turf-synthetic route was the same one he used for Paddy O’Prado before the colt finished third in the 2010 Derby.
Romans has other 3-year-olds he will get a line on over the next couple of months.
Quick Wit, a son of Sharp Humor, won a 7 1/2-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream on Jan. 28, and Romans said he would wheel him back in Saturday’s Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream. Romans purchased him privately for owner Michael Bruder following a fifth-place finish in his debut at Aqueduct.
“I didn’t pay a lot of money for him, and he’s been a pleasant surprise,” Romans said. “He’s gotten better in his training, and I thought both of his races for us have been good.”
Romans is still high on Cozzetti, a son of Cozzene whose only win came in an off-the-turf maiden race at Churchill. He has the pedigree and the action of a turf horse, but following a five-furlong work in 58.80 seconds on dirt Feb. 4, Romans plans to give him another try on the dirt soon.
“I think there’s more to him than we’ve seen,” Romans said. “I’ve always thought he was a good horse. One of these days I think we’ll see him have a breakthrough race.”
News Pending, a son of Harlan’s Holiday, won a maiden turf race and finished second in an allowance on turf this meet at Gulfstream. He is another who could soon see the dirt.
Romans believes his clients have purchased better yearlings than in past years. One of those clients is Jerry Crawford, who races under the name Donegal Racing and who owns Dullahan and O’Prado Again.
Crawford said he has heard good early reports on 2-year-olds by Giant’s Causeway − including one who is a half-brother to Pulpit − Street Sense, Tiznow, and English Channel.
Crawford has been a Romans client for a decade and calls him “one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known in the business.”
“His evolution is not dissimilar to ours,” Crawford said. “He was a claiming trainer when we started working with him. Now he’s one of the perennial leading trainers. He’s evolved into what I’d call a ‘big-horse’ trainer. He’s constantly trying to figure out news ways to get a horse’s peak performance. He’s been getting the job done where many horsemen don’t get the job done.”
Top horses in the barn
The Dale Romans stable is led by these seven horses:
Cozzetti (3-year-old, 5-1-0-0)
Bred for turf, but Romans planning to try him on dirt soon
Dullahan (3-year-old, 6-1-1-2)
Breeders' Futurity winner gearing up for two preps before Kentucky Derby
Little Mike (5-year-old, 15-9-2-0)
Romans says Sunshine Millions Turf winner could be best turf miler in country
News Pending (3-year-old, 6-1-2-0)
Talented son of Harlan's Holiday could be switched from turf to dirt
Quick Wit (3-year-old, 3-1-1-0)
Recent maiden winner will be wheeled back for Saturday's Hutcheson
Sassy Image (5-year-old, 15-7-2-1)
Back from injury, Grade 1-winning sprinter pointing to Humana Distaff in May
Shackleford (4-year-old, 12-3-4-0)
Last year's Preakness winner kicks off 2012 campaign in Saturday's Donn