The one question I ~ Molly Jo ~ have been asked most this week is not “Can I’ll Have Another win the Triple Crown?” Surprisingly it’s been “Why did Romans work Dullahan so fast?”
The answer to both, actually, is not simple.
There are a myriad of factors that influence I’ll Have Another’s chances on Saturday – from the grueling Triple Crown schedule to the tough task of three weeks rest to the young jockey – and I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball or the ability to predict the future (except to say Go Kings! in the Stanley Cup).
But Dullahan working quick? That I can help with.
First off, you have to understand that no two trainers train the same. I know that sounds logical, but it’s easy to forget when all we see are the printed final workout times underneath the past performances. When you see a work, you owe it to yourself as a handicapper to find out if that was under pressure or in hand, quick early/slow late or just on a loose rein. Common in Southern California, services like Grade1Racing (which now has clockers coast to coast) describe for you how a work happened, which leads to a better understanding of the horse’s true form.
In terms of Mine That Bird’s little half-brother… Dale Romans is the Bob Baffert of the east coast: if a horse can make it through his program, they’re as solid as a horse can get. This isn’t about speed: it’s about bone and knowing how to build it. If you take a horse that has a strong foundation and the will to win, good trainers can mold the talent.
You have to remember that workouts aren’t about one morning at one track: they are a pattern that must be analyzed ~ even more so than past performances. There are a million ways to lose a race, but pretty much the only way a work goes wrong is a loose horse interfering, it starts to rain, a workmate unexpectedly jumps in, or your rider misjudges the pole.
After Dullahan got sick from a cough going ‘round the Gulfstream backside in January, Romans did a masterful job of getting this horse fit quickly but safely with plenty of long, strong gallops each morning. Before running second in the Palm Beach upon return, the chestnut worked 1:00.3 with a monstrous gallop out a week after a 59.1 that looked like he was just strolling through the stretch.
Dullahan got one last easy leg stretching move over the Gulfstream dirt before shipping to Keeneland for the Blue Grass: where he fired a freakishly fast 57.4 bullet over his favorite surface.” He trained well enough into the Derby but has never looked truly comfortable underneath the Twin Spires. Romans chose to skip the Preakness and bring a fresh horse to New York, but not before going old school and working a mile (truly 1-1/8 mi. given the strong gallop out).
Perhaps because it was unconventional or because the time wasn’t flashy, people have forgotten this work. At this point, the colt doesn’t need any extra fitness: if he ain’t fit by now, he ain’t never gonna be. This was about getting the colt mentally ready to go the furthest he’s ever run and probably ever will go. As Bruno noted, “the last three furlongs in a decent 36.3. Not the kind of drill you are going to be wowed by, but the kind of drill where you have to like what you see.”
People talk about Doug O’Neill shipping I’ll Have Another early to get him accustomed to the surface… he’s not the only one. Romans shipped Dullahan north a week early, put Castellano up for the first time, and sent the pair for spin around Big Sandy. As Javier said after, “The man said ‘45’ and I said no way, that can’t be right. If you’d asked me I’d have said we went in 48 and galloped out in a minute. He went so easily. I was like a statue on him.”
When one of the better riders in the game is surprised by the horse (in a good way), you know you’re doing something right. Sometimes a fast work is to sharpen speed ~ that’s not the case here. I believe this was a “let him stretch his legs however he wants to do it” like we saw before the Palm Beach and the Blue Grass (coincidentally his two best efforts). Interestingly, the son of Even the Score is already handling Belmont’s dirt better than he ever handled Churchill.
However he runs on Saturday, Dullahan is certainly physically and mentally fit enough to handle the grueling 1-1/2 mi. The colt has certainly flourished in the Big Apple, but one question remains… is I’ll Have Another the next Triple Crown winner?