ROMANS CHASES 1ST BELMONT WIN; DIVERSIDEO READY FOR G1 MANHATTAN

ROMANS CHASES 1ST BELMONT WIN

LOUISVILLE, KY (MAY 31, 2017) – Trainer Dale Romans walked back to his barn on the Churchill Downs backside, after watching a set go through their daily work. His mind drifts to the many times he had made the trek to The Big Apple, for the third leg of the Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes.

Eight times he has gone to Long Island with a horse to saddle for the oldest, longest, and, some say, the most grueling of the Triple Crown races.

Eight times he has come back to Louisville without a victory, although he has four 3rd place finishes among those eight races.

“Four times I have run third in the Belmont Stakes; four times,” said Romans, shaking his head. “Only one of those times were we the favorite, though. Still, four times we have run third.

“I sure would like to win that darn thing some time,” he said.

Come June 10, 2017, Dale Romans and his wife, Tammy Fox Romans, will make the pilgrimage one more time.

This time they will ship J Boys Echo – winner of the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct earlier this year – to contest the 149th running of the final Triple Crown leg.

And, like many times before, Romans will lead his entourage of hard-boot horsemen and soft-hearted horse lovers, who all think this just may be the year that he breaks thru for a better finish, inching closer to the winner’s circle.

J Boys Echo comes into this year’s edition of the Belmont with solid credentials. Overwhelming resume? No. Yet, a solid sheet of past performances that indicate that on his day, the son of Mineshaft could have a serious shot at pulling off Romans’ first Belmont victory.

In his October 2016 career debut at Churchill, going just 6 1/2 furlongs, J Boys Echo ran a game second to a nice colt by the name of Totality. Less than a month later at Keeneland, J Boys Echo cranked it up for a 1 1/16-miler and stormed the winner’s circle for the first time, beating Big Bend.

He finished his 2-year-old campaign with a game 4th place finish to Gunnevera in the Delta Downs Jackpot, and came back to start his 3-year-old season with a closing 3rd in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.

But it was on March 3, 2017 that J Boys Echo stamped himself as a legitimate threat in this year’s Triple Crown sequence. He swept to a fast-closing victory in the Grade 3 Gotham – whipping a lightly-raced colt by the name of Cloud Computing.

Remember him?

That’s the same Cloud Computing who just won the Preakness Stakes a few days ago and now is aglow with a world of praise.

That’s the same Cloud Computing that J Boys Echo whipped by 3 1/2 lengths in the Gotham.

“J Boy is doing good. He’s going to work on Saturday and ship on Tuesday and we’re going to go up there and try to win a Belmont,” said Romans, who trains the colt for the Albaugh Family Stable. “We’ve been close. We want to be a little closer. We run the favorite one time, but the rest of them were long shots. Four thirds in the Belmont and that’s an odd statistic. Hopefully, we can improve on that.”

Romans’ run in the Belmont Stakes started back in 2005 when he saddled Nolan’s Cat. It was the first of his four 3rd place finishes. Five years later, Romans was back with First Dude. And, another 3rd on the board.

After finishing 5th with Shackleford in the 2011 Belmont and Dullahan in 2012, Romans picked up his next “third” when Medal Count finished to “show” in 2014.

The very next year, 2015, Romans was at it again, with Keen Ice.

A year ago, his duo of Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine ran 6th and 7th respectively.

“I’m ready,” said Romans, when asked if he wanted to move up the Belmont ladder. “I just hope J Boy is.”

Before I left Romans’ barn, I slapped my good friend on the back and wish him well. And, I reminded him that Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens won five consecutive Belmont’s – with the likes of Conquistador Cielo (1982), Caveat (1983), Swale (1984), Crème Fraiche (1985) and Danzig Connection (1986).

Dale Romans may hold the record for most third-place finishes. I’ll check the books on that.

“I don’t know either,” he said. “But I sure like Woody’s streak better than mine.”

DIVISIDERO READY FOR G1 MANHATTAN STAKES

Buff Bradley knows a good horse when he trains one. After all, he’s had a few. Grade 1 Stakes and Million Dollar Runners like Brass Hat and Groupie Doll were in and out of his stalls over the past few years.

But he may be riding as high as ever when he travels to New York to saddle Divisidero for the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Manhattan Stakes on Belmont Stakes Day, June 10.

“Honestly, I really don’t think he could be doing any better,” said Bradley, when I ran him down at his barn on the backside of Churchill Downs Wednesday morning. “He has that look to him right now. He has that way about him. He’s really on top of his game right now. I think he will run a big one. I really do.”

Divisidero can run as big as any of them. He won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day this year – for the second year in a row. The year before, on Derby Day, he won the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes.

Now, the 5-year-old will try the Manhattan, again. A year ago, he ran a troubled 5th. Bradley thinks he will redeem himself quite nicely.

“I think he will love that track up there,” said Bradley. “The turns are nice, big, sweeping and he really likes that type of track with a lot of grass under him. I just think he is doing as good as I’ve ever seen him.”

He’s an extremely talented horse,” Lukas said Monday morning. “If he’s fit, I think I can drop right in to the deep end of the pool and take on the seasoned horses because he’s got a beautiful mind and he handles racing very well. Very easy horse to train. Normally you say, ‘Boy, we need some experience.’ But I’m not so sure I can’t put a strong work into him and run him where I want to.”

Hall of Fame Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, about this 3YO Derby hopeful, Sporting Chance, who got his second serious work at Oaklawn Park on Monday, Martin Luther King Day. With rider Gary Stevens up, he breezed an impressive half-mile in :47.60. He will be pointed to the $500,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 19
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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