(Rombauer / Benoit Photo & Courtesy of Santa Anita)

From the Santa Anita Media Team:


It wasn’t a breathtaking last-to-first stretch run ala Silky Sullivan from days of yore, or even akin to that of Zenyatta from a more recent vintage, but Rombauer’s scintillating triumph in Saturday’s El Camino Real Derby certainly stirred memories of those fairytale finishes.

The Candy Ride colt owned and bred by John and Diane Fradkin in Kentucky wasn’t beating a Breeders’ Cup caliber field, but still stamped himself as a3-year-old to be reckoned with at the classic 11/4-mile of the Kentucky Derby with his stirring victory on the synthetic Tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields.

Making his three-year-old debut, he closed from 11 ½ lengths behind at the half-mile pole in the nine-furlong El Camino Real to get up by a neck as the 6-5 favorite under Kyle Frey, going four-wide in the stretch to boot.

Rombauer had shown a penchant for making up ground in each of his four previous races, always closer at the finish than he was at the head of the stretch, but he outdid himself winning the El Camino Real Derby which earned him 10 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and an all-expenses paid berth to the Preakness Stakes on May 15.

“The horse is still up in San Francisco,” trainer Michael McCarthy said from his Santa Anita headquarters early Sunday morning. “We’ll kind of give him a few days to get his feet underneath him and formulate a game plan the next week or two. There are a lot of options out there right now; they’re all in play.”

McCarthy did have some reservations with Rombauer’s chance of victory when he was still nine lengths behind entering the stretch.

“He was a little farther back than I would have liked,” McCarthy opined, “but I did not want to get hung wide into the first turn and have him run a mile and quarter in February instead of a mile and an eighth.

“The plan was always to try and save ground into the first turn, we did that and may have sacrificed a few lengths in doing so, but the horse seemed to find his stride coming through the lane.

“It was good enough to get up. I knew a mile and an eighth would not be an issue with him.”

Based at Santa Anita with a plethora of other Triple Crown hopefuls that include Life Is Good, Freedom Fighter, Medina Spirit and Concert Tour for Bob Baffert; Dream Shake for Peter Eurton; Hot Rod Charlie and The Great One for Doug O’Neill; and Roman Centurian for Simon Callaghan, Rombauer did not surprise McCarthy, who won the El Camino Real Derby in 2018 with the filly Paved.

Should Rombauer make it to the Kentucky Derby, it would be a first for McCarthy, who experienced racing’s most famous race multiple times while an assistant with Todd Pletcher, but never with a horse he trained.

McCarthy has more to look forward to these days than a trek down the Triple Crown trail. The native of Youngstown, Ohio, who celebrated his 50th birthday on Feb. 1, has Independence Hall ticketed for the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 6, multiple graded stakes winner Smooth Like Strait on course for the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile the same day and Moraz likely for the Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes the next day, March 7.

A diligent and fastidious horseman, McCarthy resides in Altadena, in close proximity to Arcadia, home of Santa Anita. He is just 17 minutes and nine miles from the historic track as the crow flies.

As to Rombauer having a running style similar to the likes of Silky Sullivan and Zenyatta, a realistic McCarthy kept things in perspective.

“I’d be happy if I could be half as good as either of those,” he said.