Trainer Dale Romans has five horses entered in the Breeders' Cup. (Mark Lennihan / Associated…)
Dale Romans' horse training operation is based at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, but he has set up a remote temporary home at Santa Anita Park for what could be an incredibly lucrative weekend.
Romans, 46, has entered five horses, including Pacific Classic winner Dullahan and 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, in the Nov. 2-3 Breeders' Cup in Arcadia and all five have been in Southern California for more than a week.
In addition to Shackleford's entry in the Dirt Mile, Romans' Little Mike is in the Mile, and Sustained and Moon Walk are in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Romans still has to finalize whether to race Dullahan — third in this year's Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes pre-race favorite — in the $5-million Breeders Cup Classic or the $3-million Turf.
Romans' longtime girlfriend and former jockey Tammy Fox will ride Dullahan in Santa Anita workouts.
In regard to choosing a race for Dullahan, what will you base it on?
"What we'll do is after working him on Santa Anita's turf Saturday, we'll put him on the dirt this Saturday. He's a surface-sensitive horse, and so I'll let Tammy make the call. I've decided to just get her feedback and then go from there. She's one of the best in truly understanding what kind of horse is under her."
It's not going to be based on the competition in the respective fields?
"No, that doesn't make any difference. You know going into a Breeders' Cup race, they're all going to be tough, and he already proved he can run against anyone by winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. I'm not sure he's a 1 1/2-mile horse. He loves 1 1/4 miles. He just needs the surface to be firm or tight. We just want to make sure we put him where he fits the best."
Shackleford's also very good. Who's better? And is one of them your favorite?
"That's like asking me who my favorite kid is. Dullahan is like a Ferrari and has had a very good 3-year-old year," after a runner-up showing in the Belmont, too, with three consecutive Grade I victories on synthetic tracks, "but Shackleford has had one of the greatest careers I could ever hope for. He's a grinder. My first Triple Crown race winner, and my best chance to win a race on Breeders' Cup day."
Sounds like Shackleford's your favorite?
"He shows up to work every day. Never misses a workout, a day of galloping, never misses giving his best in a race. His toughness and will to win is second to none. A great personality too. He knows he's special. When he won the Preakness, there's a big party afterward. He was up until midnight, letting like 1,000 people pet him. It was like he was signing autographs."
What are your realistic hopes for Nov. 2-3?
"That all five run well. Realistically, Shackleford fits the best. He has no excuses. As long as it's not muddy … he should win. Dullahan just needs the right surface. As long as we know we have one, he can win even though he's never won on dirt and he'd be a 3-year-old against older and European horses on turf. Little Mike is in a tough race with Wise Dan, who'll be the biggest favorite of the day, but Little Mike's speed is dangerous. Sustained is a good filly with worlds of talent, and Moonwalk is an improving horse that won a big race at Keeneland its last time out. Gritty horse, definitely has a chance."
One issue at play in the Breeders' Cup is the organization's decision to ban the use of Salix/Lasix in juvenile races. What are your thoughts on this?
"We put horses in unnatural situations, racing them over long distances with riders on their back, and that can cause hemorrhages in the lungs of 80% of them. If it happens once, it usually gets worse. So here we have an inexpensive proven treatment for that, with no ill effects on the horse. It's basically human blood pressure medicine that we use only in the stressful work of morning workouts and races. We've used it forever. But now it's a political problem, with people preaching horses just need hay, oats and water. That's a super theory, but we owe it to the horses to make a race as trauma-free as possible. I truly don't get it. No anti-Lasix person has made an argument on this to me that makes sense. And it's a mistake to take it away from the juveniles. People are going to be handicapping races, betting big money on these races. But now they'll be making substantial bets on horses without Lasix. Now how are they going to feel if their horse loses and the trainer says, 'Well, he bled.' We need to protect the gamblers."
When you were a child helping your father train horses, it was just oats, hay and water, wasn't it? With horses that got on the track sooner and had longer careers?
"That's not true. There wasn't good testing back then. They'd say they were running clean, but I can tell you being around that scene, they gave a lot of different medicines to horses. There were stories of Ritalin, things like that. That was the way of that era. Now there are tests. You can't put anything in a horse that can't be found by a good scientist. When I hear of those good ol' days with no medicine, that's just not true."
How did you determine it was best to get your horses to Southern California this early?
"When you look at the last time the Breeders' Cup was at Santa Anita, the East Coast horses didn't get a sniff. We have a big stable. I can afford to send Tammy and my second-level managers. I don't know if it's the answer, but I know I don't want it as an excuse. I want that concern to be taken out of the equation."