After a quiet spring meet at Churchill Downs, trainer Dale Romans is back in the spotlight to start the new September meet.
Heading into Friday’s race card, Romans is atop the trainer standings with three wins along with Steve Asmussen and Brad Cox. Of his 11 starters through the first three days of the meet, seven have finished in the the money.
What’s most notable is Romans is winning with 2-year-olds. The trend began late in the Ellis Park meet and helped propel Romans to the training title there.
The success continued as Romans and Iowa-based ownership group Donegal Racing made a statement in Saturday’s Iroquois Stakes for 2-year-olds, finishing one-two with a pair of long shots: Cleburne (34-1) and Smart Cover (26-1). Cleburne, 2 for 2, tallied 10 Kentucky Derby points with the victory and is likely headed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Smart Cover, who earned four Derby points, could also go to Santa Anita.
After the race, Romans said he was already thinking about May and the race the Louisville native has yet to win: the Kentucky Derby.
"It always feels good to win a big race, especially with young horses,” Romans said. “You can start thinking about next year. It's been a tough year, but we've had a lot of reasons for that. We've worked them all out and we're going good again."
That could be just the start for the Donegal – Romans team. They have several promising juveniles yet to be unveiled, including Irish You Well in Friday’s sixth race.
Cleburne and Smart Cover both previously raced at Ellis Park. Handicappers are taking note that through 31 races in the new meet, 10 winners shipped from the Henderson, Kentucky track.