Romans Recounts Touching Story of Cristina's Journey

Sep 07, 2014 John Cox

After her impressive gate-to-wire, 2 ¼-length victory in Saturday’s $231,000 Pocahontas (Grade II) at Churchill Downs, GSN Racing LLC’s Cristina’s Journey was reported by trainer Dale Romans to have exited the race in good form.

“She came out fine,” Romans said. “We’re going to decide in the next week whether we want to run her again at Keeneland or if we’re just going to train right up to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.”

Romans spoke of how the horse was named for his friend and employee Cristina Bahena, who has worked for Romans for more than 25 years but only recently was awarded U.S. citizenship after an elongated process.

“A guy named Mondo Morales was the first Hispanic guy we had working for us when I was working for my Dad,” Romans said. “Mondo came over and we were shipping to Turfway Park that November when I was 20-years-old. He told me that his friend and his girlfriend want to come with us and that they needed a job. I said ‘bring them on.’ We needed help so he went and got them. This was back when there were hardly any Hispanic people working on the track.”

The couple turned out to be Cristina and future husband Baldemar Bahena, who has been Romans’ main assistant at Churchill Downs for several years.

“When I met Cristina I think we were both 20,” Romans said. “All she wanted to do was get her kids here from Mexico. Then one day she found out she was getting deported, so she and I had to go to the immigration office in Chicago. We walked around downtown Chicago all day looking for one number. It was back when President Reagan had that amnesty program. So we found it and they let her get legal and stay in the country. It literally was five minutes before they closed this one department, we found one lady that would help us out in the right way.

“We didn’t know anything; we were just kids. She didn’t speak a lick of English and I didn’t speak any Spanish. We stayed in a hotel together; we walked around downtown Chicago together. It was an adventure to say the least.”

The trip to Chicago was not without horse racing as Romans noted he ran a horse at Arlington that day, but he couldn’t recall how they fared.

“We had been at Ellis Park and then we drove to Arlington to run a horse,” Romans said. “Then we caught a train downtown and spent the entire day there. Then fast forward; she finally gets her kids here. Last year she finally became a U.S. citizen. Senator Mitch McConnell sent the flag and they flew it over the Capitol building in Frankfort in her honor.”

Romans told the story to one of his owners, Tim Newcomer, and Newcomer was the one to name the filly after Cristina.

“I told Tim the story one day and he decided to name the horse after her and her journey. It was a long journey to citizenship. It’s a great story. You’ve never seen anybody more proud of anything than when she got that flag and became an American citizen.

“She had to pass a written test and it was really neat because she had her 12-year-old daughter study with her to help her to pass it. The whole story; for her to start out like that; that’s the American dream. And she’s kept the same job; she’s been here with us working since she was 20-years-old. There’s not a better person walking the face of this Earth than Cristina.”

In addition to Cristina’s Journey receiving an all-expenses paid trip to the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park as part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series, the 2-year-old daughter of Any Given Saturday also is the early points leader on the Road to the 2015 Kentucky Oaks, having earned 10 points in Saturday’s effort.


After campaigning the first and second place finishers in Saturday’s $115,500 Iroquois (Grade III), trainer Steve Asmussen said that both Lucky Player and Bold Conquest came out of the race in good order.

“I’m very happy with how both colts came out of the Iroquois,” Asmussen told Daily Racing Form. “We’ll keep the two from the Iroquois separated and most likely run one of them at Keeneland.”

Jerry Durant’s Lucky Player earned 10 points on the Road to the 2015 Kentucky Derby with Saturday’s victory in addition to an all-expenses paid trip to the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita Park.

Asmussen also told Daily Racing Form that debut winner Holy Boss, who took Saturday’s seventh race by a 10 ¼-length margin, came out fine and would be pointed to an allowance race for his next start.

After a victory in the $107,300 Ack Ack Handicap (GIII), trainer Eddie Kenneally said that Joseph Sutton’s Bradester returned in good shape and will be pointed to the Sept. 27 Kelso Handicap (GII) at Belmont Park.

Phil Sims and Jerry Namy’s Don’t Tell Sophia, winner of Saturday’s $108,200 Locust Grove, came out of her race in fine order and will be pointed to the Oct. 5 Spinster (GI) at Keeneland according to Sims, who also is the mare’s conditioner.


Saturday’s featured race, the $100,000-added Open Mind for fillies and mares going six furlongs, attracted 20 nominees and an early look at possible starters includes last year’s winner Vuitton, Aireofdistinction, Flower Spell, Interest Free, Janis’s Joy and Rusticana.

Vuitton captured the 2013 Open Mind for trainer Steve Asmussen, and followed that with a runner-up effort in the Dream Supreme at Churchill last November.

The 5-year-old daughter of Smart Strike made her first start of 2014 for new trainer Eddie Kenneally and new owner John P. Ryan. Her best effort under Kenneally was a second-place effort in an optional claiming race at Churchill on May 9. Overall, she has won six of 20 starts and earned $358,110. She has never finished worse than third in seven starts under the Twin Spires.

Kenneally is shooting for his second Open Mind victory, having won the event in 2007 with Taletobetold.

Asmussen will be going for back-to-back Open Mind victories with Gillian Campbell’s Aireofdistinction, who finished third in her last effort beaten four lengths in the West Virginia Secretary of State. Campbell was one of the co-owners of Vuitton at the time of last year’s Open Mind, so she too will be seeking consecutive victories in the race named for the first filly to sweep the Breeders’ Cup Juvenille Fillies (Grade I) and Kentucky Oaks (GI) back in 1988-89.


A trio of graded stakes winners at Churchill Downs: Fiftyshadesofgold, Southern Honey and Vexed head a cast of 30 3-year-old fillies nominated to 39th running of the $100,000-added Dogwood (Grade III) at Churchill Downs on Saturday, Sept. 20.

Douglas Scharbauer’s Fiftyshadesofgold won the Eight Belles (GIII) on Kentucky Oaks Day and followed that with back-to-back fourth-place efforts in Grade I events in New York. In her last start she was beaten only a length in the Test (GI) at Saratoga. She has a perfect two-for-two record at Churchill Downs, also having won last year’s Debutante for trainer Bret Calhoun.

Ashbrook Farm’s Southern Honey looked very impressive in her last Churchill start, defeating older mares in the Winning Colors (GIII) on May 26. She followed that effort with a ninth-place finish in the Test and a third-place finish in the Prioress (GII) at Saratoga on Aug. 30. She has tallied three wins in seven starts for trainer Rusty Arnold and earned $182,017.

Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Vexed would be making her 3-year-old debut should her connections decide to go in the Dogwood. She has not raced since taking the Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill last November for trainer Al Stall Jr.

Also on the list of nominees is Joseph Sutton’s Milam, who was runner-up to Fiftyshadesofgold in the Eight Belles and most recently finished third in the Victory Ride (GIII) at Belmont. Trained by Eddie Kenneally, she has won three of eight starts and $175,676.

The winner of the featured race on Friday’s opening night card Brown Eyed Mary is another notable nomination. Owned by Karabulut Muzeyyen and trained by Murat Sancal  the daughter of Pulpit took Friday night’s allowance race by 3 ¾ lengths going seven furlongs.

The seven-furlong Dogwood is named for the hardy, blooming tree that adds so much beauty to Kentucky’s landscape.


Jockey Jesus Castanon captured his 300th Churchill Downs win Friday night when he rode favored In Tall Cotton to a 1 ½-length victory in the third race. The 41-year-old veteran is just the 25th jockey to reach the 300-win mark. Retired Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day holds the record for overall wins under the Twin Spires with 2,482.

“I really didn’t think anything about it at first,” Castanon said. “I was just focused on getting the win. When I came back to the winner’s circle and saw the big sign, I realized that I did something good. It was pretty exciting, especially being here at Churchill.”

Castanon said his most memorable local win was aboard Shackleford for trainer Dale Romans in the 2012 Clark Handicap.

“I’d say winning the Clark with Shackleford was definitely my most memorable win here,” Castanon said. “Another one was when I won the Firecracker in 2010 with Tizdejavu.”

Castanon noted a Breeders’ Cup win was definitely on his wish list before he retires.

“I have accomplished quite a few things in my riding career,” Castanon said. “My goal is just to keep riding and hopefully win a Breeders’ Cup race; it’s tough to get but you never know. The Kentucky Derby and Belmont would obviously mean a lot too. But I think I have plenty of good years ahead so we’ll see.”


Congratulations to trainer Rusty Arnold II, who survived an inquiry in Saturday’s third race with San Antone ($6) to collect his 300th Churchill Downs win. The 59-year-old native of Paris, Ky. is the 16th trainer to amass 300 wins beneath the Twin Spires. … Trainers Steve Asmussen and Dale Romans each saddled two winners Saturday. Jockeys Corey Lanerie, Miguel Mena and Ricardo Santana Jr. had riding doubles. … Favorites won 11 of the first 21 races (52.4%) through the first two days of the meet. …Trainer Steve Margolis will celebrate his 51st birthday on Monday …  Francisco Torres has the mount aboard the Mike Maker-trained Joha on Sunday in the $200,000 Presque Isle Mile in Erie, Pa.


Churchill Downs Friday Happy Hour

Friday, Sept. 12, 4-7 p.m.

Enjoy live racing and one of Louisville’s best Friday Happy Hours on Sept. 12 from 4-7 p.m. Country music artist Pamela K. Ward will perform live on the Plaza Stage and Churchill Downs is serving up cold domestic draft beers for $2, Stella Artois for $3 and specially priced specials from the Plaza grill. General admission is $3 and reserved box seats are $10.

Football Watch Party / $100,000 Open Mind

Saturday, Sept. 13, 12:30 p.m. Kick Off

Gather with a multitude of other U of L fans to watch the Cardinals take to the gridiron against the Virginia Cavaliers in the first ACC match-up between the two schools, while simultaneously enjoying the thrills of live racing at Churchill Downs. Bleacher seating will be added to the Plaza with the U of L game shown uninterrupted on the giant 16’ x 20’ Plaza video screen. During the game, Churchill Downs will be serving cold Bud and Bud Light for $2, Stella Artois for $3, and a selection of traditional tailgate foods from the Plaza grill. Gates open at 11:30 a.m., the Louisville game starts at 12:30 p.m. and the first race is 12:45 p.m. The featured racing event is the $100,000-added Open Mind, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares. Admission is free to college students with a current student ID. Paid general admission is $3 and reserved box seats are $10.

Family Adventure Day presented by Kroger

Sunday, Sept 14, 11:30 a.m. Gates Open

In recognition of the Belle of Louisville’s 100th birthday, Churchill Downs is hosting the Belle Centennial Bash Celebration on Sunday, Sept. 14, as part of its Family Adventure Day presented by Kroger series. While adults can enjoy an exciting day of live horse racing, their children will enjoy more than a dozen inflatables, activities and games throughout the day. Participation in the Family Adventure Day activities requires the purchase of a Family Pavilion Ticket which is $10 for adults or $5 per child and includes gate admission and access to family seating on the Grandstand Terrace. Adults can save $5 by buying wristbands in advance online at Gates open at 11:30 a.m. and the first race is at 12:45 p.m. General admission is $3 and reserved box seats are $10.

Friday, Sept. 12 – Happy Hour

  • 10 races from 2:45-7:27 p.m. (Gates 1:30 p.m.)
  • Feature (Race 9 at 6:58 p.m.): $39,000 alw, 3&up, 1 1/16 M (T)
  • Happy Hour in The Plaza from 3-7 p.m. Drink specials ($2 Budweiser/Bud Light; $3 Stella Artois), live music by Pamela K. Ward & register to win box seats to the 2015 Kentucky Derby & Kentucky Oaks.
  • Feature: TBD
  • Box Office hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 13 – Football Watch Party/$100,000 Open Mind

  • 10 races from 12:45-5:27 (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature Race: $100,000-added Open Mind, f & m, 6 F.
  • U of L vs. West Virginia football game (12:30 p.m. kickoff) to be shown on 16’ x 20’ plaza video screen.
  • In-game drink specials ($2 Budweiser/Bud Light; $3 Stella Artois) in the Plaza.
  • Free admission to college students with a current student ID.
  • Who’s the Champ? Betting Challenge in the ITW area on the second floor of the Grandstand. $35 to enter ($30 for TSC Elite members). Registration from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Churchill Downs Lounge. $2 Win/Place mythical wagers on Races 3-8. First prize: 1,000,000 TSC Elite Points ($1,000) plus $500 entry fee for Churchill Challenge. Second prize: 500,000 TSC Elite Points ($500). Third prize: 250,000 TSC Elite Points ($250).
  • Box Office hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 14 – Family Adventure Day presented by Kroger

  • 10 races from 12:45-5:27 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature Race: TBD
  • Family Adventure Day Presented by Kroger: Bring your family to the track for a fun-filled day of racing, kids’ crafts, visits from mascot Churchill Charlie and more. Our Family Pavilion Ticket, located in the new Grandstand Pavilion, includes family friendly seating, a view of the racetrack and access to all Family Adventure Day activities. Take advantage of $5 Family Pavilion Tickets by purchasing in advance at $10 adult and $5 child tickets will be available the day of each event. Partial proceeds from Family Pavilion Ticket sales go to support Kosair Children’s Hospital.
  • Belle Centennial Bash Celebration in honor of the Belle of Louisville’s 100th anniversary.
  • Box Office hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


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