CRAWFORD | Pitino still a scratch, but Romans returns for another shot at Oaks, Derby dreams
Instead of the "when are you going to win the Kentucky Derby?" question, trainer Dale Romans is fielding the "Rick Pitino question" in advance of this year's Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In some ways, the daily Rick Pitino questions might be a bit of a relief for trainer Dale Romans. At least they add some variety to the standard, "What would it mean to you to win the Derby?" questions.
Romans trains Coach Rocks, co-owned by the former University of Louisville basketball coach, Roddy Valente and West Point Thoroughbreds. The filly was winless in her first six starts before breaking her maiden, then winning the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks to punch her Kentucky Oaks ticket.
Pitino, a regular at the races as Louisville coach, said he won’t return for this year’s Oaks, because of differences with the U of L leadership that ousted him from his job last September. Almost daily, Romans is asked if he thinks the coach will relent on his decision.
“I don’t think so,” Romans said at his barn Saturday morning after Coach Rocks breezed an easy five furlongs in 59 seconds with Tammy Fox aboard. “I’ve begged him to come and talked to him and talked to him but he says he’s not coming. But he wants me to make sure to let everybody in Kentucky know how much he loves Kentucky and the people of Kentucky. It’s just a couple of people he has issues with but he sure does love this state here and the people here in the city and in the state. I told him two days ago, ‘I wish you’d come and take the pressure off me. I get to talk about you more than I do the horses.’”
Whether Pitino is in attendance or not, Romans figures to show up on Derby weekend in a big way. He said he thinks his filly, “is as good as anybody” in the Oaks, and he has two colts expected to start in the Kentucky Derby.
Romans, who grew up on the Churchill Downs backside at the barn of his father, has saddled eight Kentucky Derby starters, with a couple of third-place finishes his best showings.
If both Fountain of Youth winner Promises Fulfilled and Free Drop Willy (third in the Blue Grass Stakes) enter the gate for the Derby in two weeks, Romans will be just the 17th trainer to saddle at least 10 Derby starters. Given his family’s history and his lifetime around the race, what it would mean to win it can’t be overstated.
“One of the great things about living here in town is all the support I get, as I say every year,” Romans said. “Everybody tells me, ‘You’re going to win one.’ Well, that’s the worst thing. It’s just pressure mounting, pressure mounting. It would be like a relief valve (to win). I need to get it over with.”
Promises Fulfilled is a son of Shackleford, who finished fourth for Romans in the 2011 Kentucky Derby before going on to win the Preakness. Romans said the two have some traits in common, but personality isn’t one of them.
“He’s a little bit like Shack, in that they both have speed and stamina,” Romans said. “But he’s not the handful Shack was. Shack was a big ham. He liked to play and buck and act up. This horse is more laid-back.”
Promises Fulfilled flashes early speed and has led wire-to-wire in each of his three-career victories, and until tiring late in the Florida Derby had led at the head of the stretch in every race he’d run.
Free Drop Billy, who won twice as a 2-year-old, likes to come from well off the pace. He hasn’t gotten up for a victory in three stakes starts this year, placing second in the Holy Bull and third in the Gotham before his Blue Grass run.
Promises Fulfilled went five furlongs in 59.20 Saturday morning; Free Drop Billy galloped a mile then breezed five furlongs in 59 seconds.
“They’re both pretty laid back,” Romans said. “The common denominator in all good horses is they’re very smart. I never had one I thought was a good one that wasn’t smart. These are very bright horses, they know what they’re doing, they take all their cues they do things right. They’re smart horses. . . . I wouldn’t want to be the horse in front of (Promises Fulfilled) and trying to beat him, trying to win. And Billy, he can do anything. Going a mile and a quarter, he’ll probably be laying a little bit closer.
“It’s a solid group from top to bottom,” he said. “You could go 10-deep and not be surprised at the winner.”
In a field many are saying may be the most talented in the Derby in years, Romans is hoping for a little luck – and for a new answer to the Derby greetings next year.
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