The race for the final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, will run this Saturday, June 11 at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Although no horse is vying for the chance to wear the crown this year, the race will again pit Animal Kingdom, the Kentucky Derby winner, against Louisville native and trainer Dale Romans’ Shackleford, the Preakness Stakes winner.
The front-running Shackleford led the Derby field around the Churchill Downs oval, but was passed in the stretch by three others, including the victorious Animal Kingdom. In the Preakness Stakes, Shackleford sat just off the fast pace of the leader, Flashpoint, and held ground while others fell to the wayside or tried to catch him. Animal Kingdom was the closest, but was still unable to chase him down. While all eyes Saturday will be on these two top contenders, Louisville eyes will be on trainer Dale Romans.
Romans, a lifelong Louisville resident and product of Louisville’s Butler High School still resides in Louisville’s Southend. Although his work as a trainer has taken him all over the world, there’s no other place he’d rather call home. Romans said his favorite thing about the city is its people.
“I live in Miami part of the year. I live in New York part of the year. But the people of Louisville are the most friendly and nicest people around and everyone has an interest in Churchill Downs. It’s just an easy place to live. It has everything that you would want in a city without the hassle.”
Romans has been involved with horses since he was a child. As the son of the renowned trainer, Jerry Romans, Romans grew up loving and learning the sport from his father. He obtained his trainer’s license at age 18 and saddled his first winner at age 20. When asked if he’d ever thought of a career in anything other than training horses Romans said, “No, this has been it since I was a little kid; that’s all I’ve thought about doing.”
Many children have gone to the racetrack with their parents and dreamed of being involved with the sport, but few are lucky enough to learn the trade from a winning trainer. Romans has some advice for those starry-eyed dreamers peeking through the paddock fence, watching the trainers saddle their horses.
“Don’t be intimidated by the game. It looks really big from the outside looking in, but it’s not that big and it’s not impossible. Just, if you decide that’s what you want to do, go on the backside and get you a job at the bottom level and work your way up.”
Romans’ own teenage children have stood beside him, watched his interactions with the horses, and experienced some of his greatest races, but will likely not follow in their father’s footsteps.
“Jacob is interested in the game. Not that I ever see him training horses or really working with the animal. He more likes the game side of it. And Bailey has no interest in it.”
Jacob is Romans’ 15-year-old son who has made appearances on horse racing radio broadcasts and Bailey is Romans’ 18-year-old daughter who graduated high school last week.
Although Romans was in New York last week preparing for the Belmont Stakes and fielding media calls, he made sure that he was on a flight back to Louisville last Thursday to see his little girl receive her diploma. The next day, he was back in New York tending to his horse, Shackleford. The family, which includes Romans’ twenty-year partner and mother to Jacob and Bailey, Tammy Fox, plans to celebrate Bailey’s graduation in New York.
Over the past several years, the hard work Romans has put into his career has garnered him wins in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (2005), The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (2009), and his first Triple Crown win with this year’s Preakness Stakes. He also trained the recipient of the 2004 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Male Turf Horse, Kitten’s Joy. A win in this weekend’s Belmont Stakes would not only give Romans another classic win, but may also put him on track to receive his own Eclipse Award for trainer of the year when the honors are awarded this winter.
Would Romans have continued with the sport if he hadn’t found this kind of success?
“It depends what you consider success. I never considered being as successful as my stable’s become, but I always thought I could make a living doing something on the racetrack. I thought I could be successful enough to make a living. Whatever you do there’s risk and reward involved.”
The resume Romans has amassed is missing his most desired accomplishment—a victory in the Kentucky Derby. Romans has had three Derby entries that have included Sharp Humor who finished 19th in 2006, Paddy O’Prado who finished 3rd in 2010, and Shackleford who finished fourth this year.
“We’ve won one Breeders’ Cup, one Dubai World Cup, but none of them would equal what a Derby win would be. It’s more special being from Louisville maybe, a little more special, but that’s for anyone who’s in horse racing. That’s not just me. I think I speak for just about everybody that’s in the game that the Kentucky Derby is the race that you want to win. They all pale in comparison to the Kentucky Derby and it doesn’t matter where you go in the country, in the world, everyone knows the Kentucky Derby.”
As of late, Romans has been under a constant media spotlight. Many articles have been written and many interviews have been conducted. However, one thing Romans has not been able to relay to the public is his sincere appreciation for their support following his Preakness win.
“I think how much I appreciate everybody. How much I appreciate everybody’s well wishes, I guess, and how much, and how many people were actually happy and excited for our stable. That was one of the biggest parts. That was one of the nicest things about winning the race. I mean, the 300 texts I got afterwards and the calls. And even though I couldn’t answer all of them or return all of the calls, I tried to return all the texts and say how much I appreciated them.”
At the end of the day, Romans is just another hard-working guy from Shively who has stuck with his passion and persevered in a line of work that rewards few in the ways it has rewarded Romans. It’s not hard to support a guy like that. So, while race fans are watching and cheering on their horse in the Belmont Stakes this weekend, Louisville will be watching and cheering on its own, Dale Romans.
Photo: Courtesy Dale Romans Racing