After an uncharacteristically slow start following his first Eclipse Award season as a trainer, Dale Romans gained momentum in the second half of 2013 largely
on the strength of promising young horses in his barn.
The Louisville native hopes to expand on that success when he saddles Donegal Racing’s Culprit in Saturday’s 87th running
of the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade II). The 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-olds is the co-feature with the $150,000-added Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program that closes out the 25-day
Culprit, a son of 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense,
comes into the Kentucky Jockey Club off a one-mile maiden victory at
Churchill Downs on Oct. 27. He defeated a pair of Kentucky Jockey Club
rivals in that race in runner-up Notability, a Romans trainee for Calumet Farm who runs in Saturday’s race off that lone start, and Tapiture, who had finished a close third to the Romans-trained, Donegal-owned Cleburne in Churchill
Downs Iroquois (GIII) in his previous start.
“The beginning of
the year at Gulfstream was normal as we were getting ready for the
spring and summer, but as soon as we got up here a lot of horses got
sick and it really put a damper on the year,” Romans
said. “But the fall has been good and the 2-year-olds have stepped up.
“Last year at the
yearling sales we bought a bunch of big, strong colts that looked like
they could go a route of ground and looked like they could be (Kentucky)
Derby contenders. Now we’re just sorting
them out and seeing where they end up.”
Romans said that
Culprit is a colt that represents the trainer’s year in a microcosm. His
win came in his third start, following a third-place finish behind the Anita Cauley’s well-regarded Wry
in a September maiden race at Churchill Downs and a seventh-place finish to Poker Player in the $150,000 Bourbon Stakes (GIII) on the grass at Keeneland.
“He came into us a
little bit weedy and not quite as developed as we thought he would be
when we bought him as a yearling,” Romans said. “We thought he was one
of our best, but it took him a while to get
his feet under him. But by the time late summer rolled around he had
really rounded into form. He’s one of my best and a horse that I think
has a huge future if he just continues to improve.”
Notability, a son of English Channel bred by Calumet Farm owner Brad Kelley’s Bluegrass Hall LLC, finished just a half-length behind Culprit in their Oct. 27 race.
“If he’d finished
two jumps ahead and beat Culprit, he’d look like a real contender and
not a maiden,” Romans said. “We decided to take a shot with him. He’s
the first horse I’ve had for Mr. Kelley, but
he seems to be the type of guy who likes to take a shot if you think
you’ve got a chance.”
Romans expects big things in Donegal’s Cleburne and Smart Cover,
who were separated by a neck in their 1-2 finish in the 1 1/16-mile
Iroquois on Sept. 7. Cleburne shipped to Santa Anita for
the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) after securing the “Win and You’re In”
bid available in the Iroquois, but a shin issue forced Romans to scratch
the Dixie Union colt on the eve of the race.
Smart Cover, a son of Any Given Saturday, has not run since the Iroquois because of similar issues.
“They both came up
with shins,” Romans said. “Smart Cover returns to training next week,
and Cleburne won’t be far behind.”
Another 2-year-old that remains high of Romans’ list of possible future stars is Spendthrift Farm’s Medal Count,
a son of Dynaformer that, like Cleburne and Smart Cover, scored his
win at Ellis Park. Medal Count won in his racing debut, then finished
fifth in the Bourbon over the grass at Keeneland. Romans thought so
highly of the colt that he sent him to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup
Juvenile, where he finished 11th
of 13 behind the victorious New Year’s Day.
He has no
explanation for Medal Count’s dull effort in the Breeders’ Cup – a race
he calls a “head-scratcher” – but Romans has lost no faith in the colt.
“If Medal Count
doesn’t turn out to be a good horse, it’ll be the most wrong I’ve ever
been about a horse,” Romans said. “He just does everything so easy. It
doesn’t matter what it is – his works or his
gallops. He’s got the pedigree, the looks and the size – he’s the total
package for a good horse.”
Medal Count has
had one work at Churchill Downs since the Breeders’ Cup, but he was not
nominated to the Kentucky Jockey Club and Romans said he never
considered the colt for the race.
“I thought I’d
take it easy with him,” Romans said. “I’ll take him to Florida and maybe
run him on the grass, and kind of start over with him down there.”
Along with his
pair in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Romans has 15 2-year-olds entered on
Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” closing day card.
“I feel pretty good about moving forward,” he said.