Dullahan in position to spoil I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid
Dale Romans has become quite the veteran of Triple Crown races.
The easygoing trainer from Louisville, Ky., picked up his first classic victory when Shackleford won the 2011 Preakness, holding off Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom by a half-length.
He's saddled horses in the past eight Triple Crown races over three years, and now he's poised to play the role of spoiler in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday with Dullahan.
"I think we're the horse to beat," Romans said even before his colt put in a blazing workout Sunday morning at Belmont Park.
So you're out to stop Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another from becoming the first Triple Crown champion in 34 years, since Affirmed in 1978?
"We owe it to the past Triple Crown winners to make I'll Have Another earn this," he said.
To that end, Dullahan may be I'll Have Another's toughest foe when a field of about 10 or 11 line up for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the Triple Crown races.
The chestnut colt certainly raised eyebrows with a sizzling four-furlong workout in 45.97 seconds. Doug O'Neill, who trains I'll Have Another took notice.
"I thought that Dullahan looked great, stretching out," O'Neill said.
When told that Romans said Dullahan was the horse to beat, he replied, "I respect (Dale) a ton, so if he says that, it's scary. As confident as he is in his horse, I'm equally confident in my horse. I think we're in really good shape."
While I'll Have Another has been a picture of perfection as he gallops up to the Belmont, Dullahan's workout was the fastest of 66 horses at the same distance.
"I thought it was super," Romans said, comparing the breeze to Dullahan's five-furlong drill of 57 2/5 eight days before the colt won the Blue Grass Stakes on April 14.
"When he works like that, he runs big," Romans said. "He looked like he was galloping, and then we got back to the barn he recovered quickly. He wasn't blowing. I think he's ready."
Javier Castellano was aboard for the work, after being picked to replace Kent Desormeaux, who lost the mount after failing a breathalyzer test before he was supposed to ride Tiger Walk in the Preakness.
"He loved it," Romans said of the Castellano. "He said if you hadn't told him the time, he would have said 48 or 49 (seconds)."
After winning the Blue Grass, Dullahan finished third in the Derby, beaten by just 1 3/4 lengths after he broke in from the No. 5 post and bumped Union Rags, then ended up going seven wide but closing strong. Romans considered the Preakness, but decided to skip it and prepare for the Belmont.
Romans believes Dullahan would have won the Derby if he wasn't forced so far outside.
"I've been around Churchill Downs for a long time and that's dead man's land," he said.
He believes he'll have the Belmont winner.
"I'm happy with my position," he said. "I wouldn't change places with anybody in this race."
Romans is relishing his role, but he can relate to what O'Neill is going through in these final weeks before I'll Have Another attempts to become the 12th Triple Crown winner.
"Everyone wants to get involved, and I'm sure he's in a very stressful situation," Romans said. "It was bad enough with the Preakness winner coming in (against the Derby winner), no less a Triple Crown."
For his part, O'Neill is enjoying his time in the spotlight despite the scrutiny over his numerous medication violations in his 14 years as a trainer.
"The biggest thing is you're under a microscope all the time, and you have to answer questions for why you do everything," Romans said.
Before I'll Have Another went for his usual gallop, he visited the paddock where he will be saddled before the race. He also walked several times around the paddock before going through the tunnel leading to the track.
"The way he went today, that will be the last time he'll see the paddock (before the race)," O'Neill said. "He's good to go."
A few other Belmont horses had workouts, including trainer Bob Baffert's Paynter, who went seven furlongs 1:25.00.
Union Rags breezed five furlongs in 59.00 at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.
John Velazquez, who will be riding the colt for the first time, made the trip from New York for the workout. Union Rags had a troubled trip in the Derby and ran seventh with Julien Leparoux aboard. The colt was held out of the Preakness.
"Johnny seemed to like him and he seemed to do that easy enough," trainer Michael Matz said.
By noon Wednesday, all Belmont horses are due at the newly created detention barn, ordered by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board just last week in an effort to beef up security.
Stricter drug protocols also will be in effect, perhaps a reaction to O'Neill's recent 45-day suspension and $15,000 fine by the California Horse Racing Board for exceeding the allowable limit of total carbon dioxide (TCO2), which can enhance performance while reducing fatigue, in one of his horses.
"I am kind of looking forward to running him in a situation when you're in a fishbowl and everyone who has thought negative thoughts about me can realize it's not about me, it's about the horse," O'Neill said. "And they can watch him lead up to a historical event and, hopefully, watch him kick butt, in a fishbowl."