South Louisville native Dale Romans is on the verge of achieving one of his lifelong goals: to surpass Hall of Fame horseman Bill Mott as the all-time leading trainer in races won at historic Churchill Downs, home of the world-famous Kentucky Derby.
Following a scorching five wins from 13 starters last week, Romans began Thursday with 12 Spring Meet wins and 695 career victories beneath the Louisville track’s iconic Twin Spires. That total put him six wins back of Mott’s all-time mark, which currently stands at 701 and is eligible to grow.
New York-based Mott, who has continued to have a productive string of horses at Churchill Downs for several years under the care of assistant Kenny McCarthy, has held Churchill Downs’ all-time win record for 31 years when he surpassed Henry Forrest (271) in 1986.
“I don’t know if we’ll get the job done this week, next week or in September but we’ll get there,” Romans said. “It’s been my life’s goal to reach this milestone and we’re almost there.”
Romans, 50, grew up on the Churchill Downs backstretch learning his trade from his father, veteran trainer Jerry Romans, who passed away in 2000 – two years after saddling his 211th and final winner at Churchill Downs.
“When I came to the track as a kid I would always see this guy named Bill Mott winning multiple races a day, training the most quality horses and living the good life,” Romans said. “I would always tell myself, ‘I want to be him when I grow up.’ It makes it even more special to be battling for the title with Bill.”
Romans took out his trainer’s license at age 18 and saddled his first winner, Miss Mindy, at Turfway Park on Feb. 15, 1987. He’s recorded more than 1,900 since, including major stakes triumphs with top-level horses such as millionaire Grade I winners Roses in May, Little Mike, Shackleford, Kitten’s Joy, Silver Max, Keen Ice, Dullahan, Paddy O’Prado, Tapitsfly, Swift Temper, Brody’s Cause, Thorn Song and Court Vision.
But, cumulatively, the 695 – and growing – wins at Churchill Downs have meant the most.
“I grew up around Churchill Downs,” said Romans, a 14-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs. “My dad was a very successful trainer and I would always come to the races hoping to follow in his footsteps.
“I took out my trainer’s license at a young age. It’s sort of been a full-circle career. I used to worry about if I could get stalls for my horses at Churchill and make ends meet. Now, we’re sitting on this milestone. It’s truly amazing. I’ve had a lot of great help over the years and this is very exciting. But let’s not put the cart before the horse, though.”
Romans has 11 horses entered over the next four days at Churchill Downs with seven racing days left in the Spring Meet: Lucky Number One’s (Thursday, Race 8); Sportscaster (Friday, Race 5); Singing Bullet (Friday, Race 8); Tizthesound (Saturday, Race 11); Mizz Tutu (Saturday, Race 11); Silver Wraith (Sunday, Race 1); Gurlin (Sunday, Race 3); Little Irishdancer (Sunday, Race 4); Prado Vision (Sunday, Race 4); Blake’s Lucky Star (Sunday, Race 6); and Watch Me Whip (Sunday, Race 9).
Mott, 63, has three local entrants this week: Special Vintage (Friday, Race 4); Harkness (Saturday, Race 8); and Cite (Saturday, Race 9).
“Bill (Mott) and I are good friends,” Romans said. “We had dinner together at the Breeders’ Cup last year and he joked with me saying ‘I’m coming at you full-steam to start the Fall Meet.’ He had about eight horses entered on opening day but only recorded one win. He joked with me the next morning saying, ‘I’m done, come get me.’”
Romans will be in Maryland through Saturday judging a yearling competition but is expected to return to Churchill Downs on Sunday.
The Top 10 All-Time Leading Trainers at Churchill Downs at the start of Thursday’s action: 1. Bill Mott (701); 2. Dale Romans (695); 3. Steve Asmussen (608); 4. D. Wayne Lukas (524); 5. Bernie Flint (479); 6. Tom Amoss (444); 7. Greg Foley (397); 8. Kenny McPeek (391); 9. Angel Montano Sr. (368); and 10. Dave Vance (351).