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 Fall Meet.
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 first career 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.
WINE PRINCESS READY FOR NEW CAREER FOLLOWING EMOTIONAL FALLS CITY WIN – In a race filled with potential storybook endings, the $165,300 Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day ended with the blue-blood princess living up to her promise in the final race of her career.
Becky Winemiller’s Wine Princess, a regally-bred daughter of Horses of the Year Ghostzapper and Azeri, scored her most significant victory in her final appearance on the track when she defeated rags-to-riches rivals Don’t Tell Sophia and Flashy American in the 1 1/8-mile holiday feature for older fillies and mares.
The Steve Margolis-trained Wine Princess won by 2 ¾ lengths under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode the 4-year-old filly in every race of her life. Her final win improved her career record to 13-5-5-1 with earnings of $461,561.
“It was just a heck of a race,” Margolis said. “After watching it a couple of times, she just put her head down and she dug in.”
Margolis said Friday that Wine Princess came out of the race in perfect shape. She will travel to her new home at Lexington’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm on Sunday morning, where she will embark on her new career as a broodmare.
“It’s bittersweet for all of us,” Margolis said. “But how could she go out in a better way than in a big Grade II win like that?”
The victory by Wine Princess continued a memorable year for Margolis, who arrived at Churchill Downs in the late 1990s as an assistant to trainer Stanley Hough, and went out on his own as a trainer in 2000.
Margolis finally scored his first stakes victory at Churchill Downs when the 4-year-old filly Good Deed won the Unbridled Sidney overnight stakes on May 11 for Louisville’s family partnership of the late Elaine Klein, Richard Klein and Bertram Klein, a longtime client. His first graded stakes win beneath the Twin Spires followed quickly when the Klein homebred Miz Ida took the Early Times Mint Julep (GIII) over the Matt Winn Turf Course on June 8.
Wine Princess had come close to stakes success at Churchill Downs, but was runner-up to Falls City rivals Flashy American in the Locust Grove and Don’t Tell Sophia in the Chilukki (GII).
Margolis has one more shot at stakes victory in Saturday’s 70th running of the $150,000-added Golden Rod (GII) with Hidden Brook Farm’s Canaryinacoalmine, a 2-year-old daughter of Birdstone who scored a 3 ½-length maiden win on the opening day “Stars of Tomorrow I” program on Oct. 27.
Canaryinacoalmine is a 20-1 outsider in the morning line odds for the 1 1/16-mile race.
“We’re taking a shot tomorrow with Canaryinacoalmine,” Margolis said. “She’s got to step-up numbers-wise and she’s going two turns for the first time, but we’re excited about trying that and seeing what happens.”
WISE DAN TO BE PARADED ON SATURDAY – Reining Horse of the Year Wise Dan, a leading contender to repeat that honor after a second straight win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), will be paraded in the paddock at Churchill Downs on closing day, Saturday.
Trainer Charlie LoPresti will van Wise Dan from his Keeneland barn in Lexington to Churchill Downs so local fans can show their appreciation to the 6-year-old gelding. His special appearance will occur with horses for Race 3 between 1:15-1:45 p.m.
Wise Dan, owned and bred by Mort Fink, won six of his seven starts this year, including a pair of stakes at Churchill Downs: the $546,400 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day and the $168,450 Firecracker Handicap (GII) in late June.
His three-quarters of a length victory over Za Approval in the $1,840,000 Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 improved his overall record to 19 wins in 27 starts. His $6,293,610 career bankroll ranks 22nd on the North American all-time earnings list.
Wise Dan, a six-time winner at Churchill Downs dating back to 2010, ranks third on the most current “Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings” – behind Black Caviar-AUS and Treve-FR – which ranks 3-year-olds and up that raced between Jan. 1 and Oct. 6.
BARN TALK – Corey Lanerie rode a pair of winners on Thanksgiving Day to maintain a commanding 32-18 lead over Miguel Mena in the battle for leading trainer of the Fall Meet. Leandro Goncalves and Julien Leparoux are tied for third at 17. … The race for leading trainer is a two-man battle, with Mike Maker leading Bret Calhoun 15-13 heading into the 24 races of the meet’s final two days … Among the many milestones achieved this year by owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the Nicholasville, Ky. duo is set to become the first owners to earn a trio of top owner crowns at Churchill Downs in a single year. They smashed the record for wins by an owner in the Churchill Downs Spring Meet and also took the “Leading Owner” title in the track’s first September Meet. … HRTV will be on-site at Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday for coverage of the Clark Handicap and Stars of Tomorrow II programs … Friday’s HRRNLive! Show from 3-7 p.m. ET on XM 208 and www.horseracingradio.net will include live coverage of the Clark Handicap … Reserved indoor premium seating at Churchill Downs is still available for Saturday … Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager will close Saturday at approximately 3:45 p.m. The Remsen at Aqueduct has a scheduled post time of 3:49 p.m.