It's still very early on the Triple Crown trail, but for now we have a good start on which 3-year-olds to watch for at the top barns. Todd Pletcher has three good ones (Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty, and Brethren) including the early Kentucky Derby favorite; Bob Baffert has several that could turn out to be special when the dust settles (The Factor, Jaycito, Awesome Patriot, Uncle Sam, Smash, Coil); Rick Dutrow Jr. has three that he really likes (Boys at Tosconova, Mountain Town, and Rustler Hustler) Bill Mott has a two-time graded stakes winner (To Honor and Serve) that he thinks might be his best 3-year-old ever; and we will surely hear about at least a couple of Nick Zito 3-year-olds by the time Gulfstream is over including impressive maiden winner Dialed In.
Zito was one of two trainers to have horses hit the board in all three Triple Crown races last year (Ice Box, Jackson Bend, Fly Down). The other is Dale Romans, who sent out Paddy O'Prado to run third in the Derby and First Dude to finish runner-up in the Preakness and third in the Belmont. Romans updated the status of Paddy and First Dude during our Jan. 11 interview and I will touch on them a bit later, but I also wanted to know about his top 3-year-olds. People seem to forget, other than Mott, no other trainer has more wins at Churchill Downs than Romans.
Romans mentioned four sophomores that he has high hopes for including Black N Beauty, a Devil His Due colt that was an impressive allowance winner at one mile on Jan. 7 when defeating a solid field by 2 1/2 lengths. Black N Beauty broke his maiden in his previous start at Churchill.
"He has a really good turn of foot; we knew he was quick but it was just a matter of whether he would go on," said Romans. "He seemed to improve (at a mile) so I think we'll try him in the Holy Bull (Jan. 30) and go from there. As long as any 3-year-old keeps improving you always think of them as a Triple Crown horse."
Amazingly, Black N Beauty was purchased by Ahmed Zayat for only $2,500 during the Keeneland September yearling sale. Romans said it was Zayat's sharp eye and ability to be patient that helped him wind up with the horse.
"Zayat gets all the credit for this one," Romans said. "He was one of the last horses that went through the ring; I don't even think I was there when he sold. He just hung around and there was no reserve on him. Devil His Due isn't that popular anymore; he's kind of fallen off. But we've had great success with him."
Romans was the trainer of 2005 Dubai World Cup winner Roses in May, who was also by Devil His Due.
Another Romans 3-year-old who recently ran at Gulfstream is Winchill, who finished a disappointing ninth in the Spectacular Bid last weekend. The son of Tapit won a six-furlong allowance at Churchill Downs in November to complete a solid 2-year-old campaign. Romans was not overly-discouraged by the poor effort in his sophomore debut.
"He drew the rail and when he broke he hit the gate," Romans said. "He became a little disinterested after that but he finished up strong and galloped out well. I'm not sure what we'll do next but he may go in the Holy Bull also."
Romans also likes Shackleford (by Forestry), a maiden winner at Churchill in his second start in November. He's out of the Unbridled mare Oatsee.
"He breezed yesterday (four furlongs in :50) and we'll run him in an allowance at the beginning of February," Romans said. "He's a big, strong colt, and has a good pedigree. He has plenty of talent."
Romans is also hopeful for Sequoia Warrior, who is 0-for-2 so far but improving as he gets older. A homebred of Donald Dizney, who also bred/owns First Dude, Sequoia Warrior is by Smart Strike, out of the Pick Up mare Poseida.
"He was immature as a 2-year-old but he's starting to figure things out," Romans said. "He's big and covers a lot of ground. We'll look for a maiden race in the middle of February for him."
Speaking of First Dude, Romans said the 4-year-old colt is being pointed to the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream on Jan. 29. He's had several breezes over the track since returning from a short freshening. First Dude was last seen finishing eighth in the BC Classic to conclude a bittersweet campaign in which he was five times graded stakes placed and earned more than $800,000 but won just one of 10 starts.
"He's probably the richest horse to ever be eligible for a non-winners of one." Romans said. "We haven't lost any confidence in him. He ran great last year but just ran into some tough luck. It's tough to pass up these big money race just to get him a win, but if he doesn't get one eventually at some point we might drop him down to allwaonce company."
Finally, Romans' stable star, Paddy O'Prado remains at WinStar Farm in Kentucky where he is still being freshened for his 2011 campaign. Romans said Paddy, a four-time graded stakes winner on turf last year who concluded his ambitious season with a fifth-place run in the BC Classic, will be sent down to Florida in a couple of weeks to return to training. Romans will find him a race at Gulfstream or Keeneland before pointing him to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby day. The Arlington Million is the main goal after that.
"He hadn't been out of training since he was a 2-year-old so he deserved some time off," Romans said of Paddy, an Eclipse Award finalist for champion 3-year-old. "We'll point him to all the top grass races."