Race of the Week 2017

Romans Poised for Big Weekend

31 January 2009: Trainer Dale Romans at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida.

For trainer Dale Romans, the final pieces of what he hopes will be a spectacular weekend at Saratoga Race Course are just about in place. With all the ancient and storied stakes races that populate the track’s racing calendar, Travers Day is the unquestioned centerpiece of the meet.


Romans, a native of Louisville, Ky. who has spent 19 summers at Saratoga, has his star 3-year-old Shackleford for the Grade 1, $1 million Travers, multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter Sassy Image in the Grade 1, $250,000 Ballerina and 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf winner Tapitsfly in the Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa.


Asked if he gets extra excited for weekends like this, Romans said, “You do, but it depends on the situation. This is exciting. There hasn’t been a lot of stress involved because there hasn’t been a problem.”


The lone blip in the plans came in the second race Wednesday afternoon, when Shackleford’s jockey, Jesus Castanon, went down in a spill on the grass when his mount, The Point Is, clipped heels with Meghan’s Fury, ridden by Jamie Rodriguez. Neither horse nor the jockeys were hurt injured, and Castanon was back at work Thursday morning, galloping Shackleford a mile and a half.


Castanon gave the thumbs up when asked how he felt, and Romans enjoyed ribbing him.


“He said the track felt soft yesterday,” Romans said. “He can literally tell you how it feels.”


“I’ve still got a little grass on me,” Castanon said.


A couple hours after his gallop, Shackleford had a schooling session in the paddock at 11 a.m., and he will stand in the starting gate tomorrow. Even when his horses act like pros, Romans likes to reinforce good habits to keep them calm and in a routine.


Romans has had major horses in the past, but Shackleford is the one to give him his first American Classic victory.


“He’s up there with the tops, right up there with Kitten’s Joy and Roses in May,” Romans said. “Personally, there are three or four up there at the top at a different level. It’s not just the way they run but the way they train and act. Roses in May won the Dubai World Cup; Kitten’s Joy was a champion.”


Shackleford’s co-owner, Michael Lauffer, added, “We’re just excited to be here. Saratoga is a special place, and the Travers is a special race. I owned half of Rachel Alexandra, but next to her, Shackleford’s the best.”


Shackleford, the Preakness winner, has looked good in the mornings at Saratoga , showing no ill effects of his demanding campaign, which featured appearances in all three Triple Crown races and a second-place finish behind Coil in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park .


Questions remain whether he is up to the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Travers, but Romans expects a top effort.


“That’s what makes the game great – everybody has an opinion,” he said. “He just has to prove everyone wrong. My horse can overcome a lot. If someone wants to go [to the lead], we’ll just sit off of them. I think he likes that, anyway, having a target, so he can keep clocking them. Going a mile and a quarter, there will be very few of them that will be out fast there early.”


While not considered in the same class as older stars Blind Luck and Havre de Grace because she is primarily a sprinter, Romans’ Sassy Image is nevertheless in position to win her third Grade 1 race in her past four starts in the Ballerina.


Tuning up on August 14, the daughter of Broken Vow turned in a scintillating five-furlong breeze in 59.97 seconds over the Saratoga main track, delighting Romans.


“When she works like that, she usually runs,” he said. “She touts herself. She’s special because she’s owned by my brother [Jerry Romans].”


Romans knows that the connections of Blind Luck and Havre de Grace are considering runs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall. Havre de Grace, owned by Rick Porter and trained by Larry Jones, will run against males on September 3 in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward at the Spa.


In response, Romans said he is considering stretching out Sassy Image in distance if all goes well in the Ballerina for a possible run in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. Sassy Image won going two turns as a 2-year-old, taking the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs.


In the weeks leading up to the Travers, Romans has engaged in a long, friendly text-message conversation with trainer Bob Baffert, who runs Coil in the Travers. After Coil’s work Tuesday morning, Romans texted suggesting the colt skip the Travers for the Pennsylvania Derby.


“It’s always fun,” said Romans, clearly having a lot of it this meet. “We have a good time.”




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