Romansh will take on a small but talented field of older horses in the $150,000 Excelsior on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack, run at 1 1/8 miles over the inner track.
A $750,000 purchase as a yearling, the 4-year-old son of Bernardini was always tabbed to be a good one. After two underwhelming starts to kick off his career, the dark bay or brown colt stormed out of the maiden ranks with a 5 ½-length victory on May 25 at Belmont Park - a win impressive enough to warrant the jump to stakes company for his next start, the 1 1/8-mile Curlin at Saratoga Race Course. Although he crossed the finish line second that day behind entrymate Transparent, he was placed first via disqualification after a trouble-filled trip.
In his subsequent outing, Romansh was once again spotted aggressively - this time in the Grade 1 Travers - and did nothing to refute his connections' confidence by finishing fifth, beaten only four lengths. After an off-the-board finish in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing, the blossoming colt put an exclamation point on his 3-year-old campaign with a 9 ¼-length victory in the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap at the Big A, earning a career best 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the process.
"We've always had high expectations for this horse," said Romansh's trainer, Tom Albertrani. "We threw him into some of the bigger races shortly after he broke his maiden, so things were coming [at him] pretty quickly. He was just getting more and more experienced as the year went along."
In line with his ambitious placings from the previous year, the Godolphin color-bearer made his 4-year-old debut in a wickedly talented edition of the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Sent off at 7-1 in the field of 11, the Albertrani trainee failed to deliver, finishing last after being eased in the stretch.
"He trained well going into the race and naturally we were disappointed," said Albertrani. "Hopefully it's just a matter of getting him back on track again. He's been working really well since."
Romansh, coupled in the wagering with Long River, will be ridden by Jose Ortiz and drew post position 7. The duo comprises the 2-5 morning line favored entry.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Long River made a brief foray onto the Triple Crown trail last winter, and then resurfaced in an optional claimer at Belmont in the fall, in which he finished second. His subsequent start off the layoff proved much better - a two-length victory over next-out winners Mail and Sliver and Onions in October - and he continued to build on that performance with wins in the Time for a Change and Evening Attire, both at Aqueduct. The 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy will put a three-race win streak on the line on Saturday.
"We sent him to Florida to train in the sun [after the Evening Attire], and there were other options, but the Excelsior was always on our radar," said Art Magnuson, assistant to Kiaran McLaughlin. "Since giving him a little time off last year he's done nothing but good, so we're all systems go."
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be aboard Long River and the pair will depart from post position 1.
Percussion, trained by Todd Pletcher for Gary Barber, will be seeking his first victory of the meet on Saturday after near misses in the Evening Attire and the Stymie. The latter proved to be a particularly tough beat for the 6-year-old gelding as he was forced to duel early and was run down late by another Kiaran McLaughlin trainee, Farhaan.
"He went head to head with Mail, fought him off, then had to go against Farhaan and almost fought him off too," said Pletcher's assistant, Byron Hughes. "He came out of the race in good form and he's been breezing well [since]. Mail's not going to be in there so hopefully there won't be a lot of speed; that would be ideal."
Sitting at 6-1 on the morning line, Percussion will break from post position 4 with Christopher DeCarlo aboard.
Rounding out the field are Mr Palmer, winner of a second-level optional claimer in his most recent outing; Praetereo, sixth in an optional claimer at Laurel Park last out; Dawly, winner of two straight at the Big A; and Don Dulce, claimed by trainer Mitchell Friedman out of a race at the Big A in which he finished second.
Long River (KY)
I Ortiz, Jr.
K P. McLaughlin
Mr Palmer (KY)
W I. Mott
C H. Velasquez
C P. DeCarlo
T A. Pletcher
A S. Arroyo
R R. Rodriguez
Don Dulce (KY)
M E. Friedman
J L. Ortiz