Romans points Preakness winner Shackleford toward Belmont

Trainer says chances colt runs in third jewel of Triple Crown better than '50-50'

May 22, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Preakness-winning trainer Dale Romans said Sunday morning that he thinks there is a better than a "50-50 chance" Shackleford will run in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks, a decision that could serve as a rubber match between the colt and Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.

"If he trains like he did going into the Derby, I don't know why we would pass," Romans said of Shackleford. "I've always thought, just like Woody Stephens said a long time ago, that the Belmont is really a speed horse's race. A mile and a half is such a grueling race, they'll all be tired when they get to the eighth pole."

Romans, who acknowledged he had celebrated his first win in a Triple Crown race through the night and was running on about an hour of sleep when he arrived at Pimlico Race Course, said he hopes Animal Kingdom will be at the Belmont on June 11 as well because a rematch between the two would be good for horse racing. Animal Kingdom, trained by Maryland trainer Graham Motion, couldn't quite run down Shackleford in the stretch and finished second by a half-length.

"It would be great if we could develop a little rivalry inside the 3-year-old division," Romans said. "I think these 3-year-olds are a lot better than people are giving them credit for. This is a good group of horses."

Whether that's true will likely continue to be a subject worthy of debate. Shackleford's winning time of 1 minute, 56.47 seconds was the slowest in the Preakness since 1993.

But none of that mattered to Shackleford's connections. Although his owners, Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge, have typically tried to sell the colts they breed while keeping fillies for racing, they had a special feeling about Shackleford. They put him up for auction at the Keeneland September yearling sale two years ago, and when no bid met the reserve price of $275,000, they decided to pull him back. On Saturday at Pimlico, he netted them more than $1.1 million.

Romans said he never had any doubts during the race, even though Animal Kingdom was coming fast at the end.

"It didn't look like anybody could catch him," Romans said. "It looked like he had control of the race the whole way. It just didn't look like anyone was going to get there to me, from the quarter pole home."

Romans also didn't feel guilty about playing the role of spoiler in Animal Kingdom's quest for Triple Crown. It has been 33 years since Affirmed was the last horse to accomplish the feat, a drought that has led plenty of horsemen to propose that the format be changed. Romans, however, isn't one of them.

"There is going to be Triple Crown winner one of these days," Romans said. "The 1970s were great, but before that, there was a big span without a horse winning a Triple Crown. It takes a super horse to do it when you're running three different racetracks, three different distances, all within five weeks. But one of these days, a super horse will come along. I don't think anything should be changed about it."

Romans said he was going to send Shackleford back to Kentucky for a few days before he decided on his plans for New York but that he planned to stick around in Baltimore for the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old auction this week at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

"It's a good time to try and drum up some new business," Romans said, noting that he had received more than 250 text messages of congratulations since the win.

As the son of a trainer who grew up practically on the Churchill Downs racetrack, Romans has come close to winning one of the Classics in previous years, including last year, when he finished second in the Preakness with First Dude. But the feeling that washed over him when Shackleford turned for home Saturday was unlike anything he had experienced.

"The last five or six years, we started feeling like maybe this was possible, but the enormity of it all is hard to fathom," Romans said.

He might not be a household name outside the horse racing community, but Romans showed Sunday why he's so well liked within it. He showed up at Pimlico with coffee for the media and started cracking jokes right away. Someone asked him how long he and his partner, Tammy Fox, had been together, and he cracked a sly grin.

"I'm not sure," Romans said. "We have an 18-year-old daughter, so at least 18 years and nine months, right?"

Romans, a big man who looks more like an offensive line coach than a veteran horse trainer, couldn't resist joking, too, about the way he wears a suit.

"You know, I don't know how Todd Pletcher and Wayne Lukas do it," Romans said. "They look so pristine all the time. I walk out of my house to my car and I'm sweating and wrinkled and my shirt is untucked. [One of my friends] told me I was the best he'd ever seen at making an expensive suit look cheap."

An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Woody Stephens. The Sun regrets the error.

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