03/23/2010 12:00AM

Romans targeting Lane's End upset

Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Vow To Wager (No. 6) was placed first in the Feb. 27 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park after Codoy was disqualified.

Dale Romans has been looking forward to returning to his Kentucky roots. The 43-year-old trainer spent most of this past winter in south Florida, as usual, but like many racetrack lifers, he invokes a familiar refrain as the next move beckons: "Can't wait to get there, love being there, can't wait to leave."

Soon enough, Romans will be back in his Louisville digs, back in his routine. His life partner, Tammy Fox, and their two teenaged children, Bailey and Jake, will be glad to have him back around on a daily basis. And there will be the road trips to Keeneland next month, although they will be tinged with sadness. For years, Romans often made the 75-minute drive in the company of Bobby Stallings, but no more. Stallings, his mentor and friend, died March 15 at age 67 after a lengthy illness.

"We lost one of the best," Romans said. "It's tough. Bobby was one of the smartest men I ever knew. He helped me with my business and my life."

Romans will have Stallings in mind Saturday when he sends out Vow to Wager among a prospective field of at least nine 3-year-olds in the Lane's End Stakes, the annual showcase race at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. By virtue of its $500,000 purse and Grade 2 status, the Lane's End virtually guarantees a spot in the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.

"I'm not ready to dedicate a race to Bobby," Romans said. "But if we can somehow win this and then get to the Derby, well, I can't think of a better time to remind people about what a great guy he was."

Robert G. "Bobby" Stallings was a prominent Louisville lawyer and civic leader who was involved in many worthy endeavors, including racing. He was a member of the Kentucky Racing Commission from 1996-2003 and was instrumental in the founding of its equine drug research council. He was an enthusiastic racing fan, a small-time horse owner, and big-time Dale Romans booster.

"He never had an agenda and was never judgmental with me," Romans said before joking, "except when he told me how to train my horses and where to run them."

More seriously, he added: "He was very instrumental in many aspects of my life."

Vow to Wager figures to be one of the longer prices in the Lane's End, a 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race in which the Southern California shipper Connemara looks like a solid favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Russell Baze. Vow to Wager comes off back-to-back victories over lesser company at Turfway, including the Feb. 27 John Battaglia Memorial in which he was elevated from second on the disqualification of Codoy.

Owned by Donegal Racing, Vow to Wager spent the winter at the Goshen, Ky., training center that Romans owns about 25 miles east of downtown Louisville before moving recently to Churchill Downs. Vow to Wager earned a mere 74 Beyer Speed Figure in the Battaglia, but Romans strongly believes the Broken Vow colt "has really improved in the last few months." If the colt were to win Saturday, "we'd definitely take a long look at running in the Derby. If he can beat this group, I don't see why we'd want to hold back from the Derby."

Romans also had intended to run Quiet All American, winner of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Championship in his last start, in the Lane's End, but the gray colt recently came up with a minor injury in Florida. Romans said he is optimistic that he will have Quiet All American ready to run in the Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes on April 17 at Keeneland.

Romans said he will have to watch the Lane's End via simulcast because he plans to travel from Florida to New Orleans to run Quiet Temper and Yate's Black Cat on the Louisiana Derby undercard at Fair Grounds. He then will be back in Kentucky for opening day of the Keeneland spring meet, April 2.

Besides Vow to Wager and Connemara, other probable starters for the Lane's End include Doubles Partner, Kettle River, Chief Counsel, Dean's Kitten, Northern Giant, Ranger Heartley, and Letsgetitonmon. Entries will be drawn Thursday at the track.

Victor Lebron will have the mount on Vow to Wager. Aside from Baze, the Hall of Fame jockey based in Northern California, several other big-name riders are scheduled to fly in for the day, most notably Calvin Borel, who has the call aboard Northern Giant for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

The Saturday card at Turfway also will include five other stakes: the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks, Rushaway, Fairway Fun, Hansel, and Queen.

Along with the Louisiana Derby, the Lane's End will be shown live on the USA cable network during the first "Road to the Kentucky Derby" telecast of the 2010 season.