06/30/2010 11:00PM

Romeo covets another royal photo for his collection


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Owner Dom Romeo already has his share of encounters with representatives of England's royal family in his Queen's Plate memory book.

"I had my first Queen's Plate starter in 1985, when the Queen Mother was here," said Romeo, 80, who has been involved in horse racing as an owner and breeder for more than 30 years. "I have a picture of myself with her at home, in my office."

Romeo, who has been in the automobile dealership business for more than 50 years, also has had entrants in Queen's Plates attended by the Duke and Duchess of York in 1987 and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent in 2002.

But the royal meeting Romeo most would cherish would be one with Queen Elizabeth II, which would be guaranteed if his homebred Big Red Mike can defeat 12 opponents in Sunday's $1 million Queen's Plate for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

Big Red Mike is coming into the Queen's Plate off a head victory in the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial, which was his stakes debut for trainer Nick Gonzalez.

The Plate Trial was just the fifth start for Big Red Mike and his first under jockey Eurico Rosa Da Silva, who rode Eye of the Leopard to victory in the Plate Trial and the Queen's Plate last year.

"His first two races last year were good," said Romeo. "We were disappointed in his first two starts this year, but he woke up in the Plate Trial, and he did it well. Now, we're all extremely excited."

Romeo is not inclined to be too bullish, however, as he has been in seemingly favorable Queen's Plate situations only to be disappointed on previous occasions.

The most recent was Classic Mike, his three-quarter brother to Big Red Mike who had finished second in the 2002 Plate Trial but ended eighth in the Queen's Plate as the 3-1 second choice.

"He was probably the best horse I had going into the Plate," said Romeo. "But he had issues."

Bold Executive, a colt co-owned by Romeo, had finished second to Afleet in the 1987 Plate Trial but faltered to finish eighth in a Queen's Plate captured by upsetter Market Control.

"He hooked up with another horse early," said Romeo of Bold Executive. "It was a terrible mistake."

Rising Young Star had finished second behind Sunny's Halo in both the Grey and Coronation Futurity here in 1982. But even though Sunny's Halo bypassed the Queen's Plate and became the second Canadian-bred to win the Kentucky Derby, Rising Young Star could not capitalize on his absence and finished a well-beaten fifth in the 1983 Queen's Plate.

"I was very high on him," said Romeo. "But, his knee acted up."

Big Red Mike has no physical issues, and Romeo only can hope that he forgoes the pre-race dramatics in which he has indulged on other occasions.

"He's rambunctious," said Romeo. "It doesn't seem to concern the trainer that much, so I hope it will be all right."

Romeo also has a rooting interest in the Queen's Plate as the breeder of Smart Sky, who comes off his maiden victory at 1 1/18 miles but has the definite look of a horse who will stay the 1 1/4 miles.

Smart Sky, who races for C. Scott Abbott Racing Stable Limited and is trained by Mike Doyle, was purchased for $50,000 at the local select yearling sale and resold for $85,000 at the Ocala sales last March.