His teachers and coaches would seek handicapping advice from big, burly Dale Romans, a star center on Butler High School’s football team. They could have had no better source for inside information.
The 52-year-old Louisville native grew up on Churchill Downs’ backstretch, where his father, Jerry Romans, trained mainly cheap horses. After winning the 2011 Preakness with Shackleford, Dale Romans said, “I don’t think my dad won more than three or four stakes in his career, but he always fed all of us.”
He worked at Jerry’s barn in the mornings before school, and early on he knew he wanted to emulate his father. Dale got his trainer’s license when he was 18 and had his first winner at 20 in 1987 at rundown Turfway Park in northern Kentucky. Back then, he never imagined he’d be competing in world-class races.
He hasn’t dealt with $10,000 claimers for a long time. Romans won the $6 million Dubai World Cup in 2005 with Roses in May. He raced turf star Kitten’s Joy, a standout sire. He won the 2012 Eclipse Award as the country’s top trainer, and in 2015 his Keen Ice knocked off Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers. Romans also has trophies from the Met Mile, Arlington Million, Breeders’ Cup Turf and Pacific Classic, with the only hole in his resume the Triple Crown series.
Of his 2,009 wins, only Shackleford’s came in a classic. Romans is 0-for-10 in his hometown Derby, 1-for-6 in the Preakness and 0-for-10 in the Belmont Stakes, in which he’s been third with four long shots. On Saturday he’ll send out another one, Preakness runner-up Everfast, in the 151st Belmont.
“Four thirds,” Romans said. “It’s become a little frustrating.”
Everfast entered the Preakness on a nine-race losing streak and went off at 29-1, down from a 50-1 morning line. Most handicappers were stunned when he surged late along the rail to win a photo for second, 1¼ lengths behind War of Will. Romans was asked if he was surprised.
“He did surprise me,” he said. “It surprised me that he lost.”
It’s been an uncharacteristically slow year for Romans, who according to equibase.com has only 11 winners from 142 starts and earnings of $1,011,606 — with $330,000 from the Preakness. He’s optimistic that Everfast has more to give. “He worked great today,” he said Monday after a 5-furlong breeze in 1:01 at Churchill. “He went even early, finished fast and didn’t want to pull up, which might be key going into the Belmont. He’s the little engine that could. Just before the Preakness, his attitude changed, and that’s why we decided to take him to the Belmont.”
Romans never has been afraid of “taking a shot,” which is why he knocked off the mighty Pharoah at Saratoga.
It took a great leap of faith to bet Everfast at Pimlico after he lost his previous three races by a combined 43¾ lengths. He rewarded believers by making up almost 21 lengths after a sluggish start. He needs a quick pace to set him up, and he got it that day. The Belmont has some early speed – likely pacesetter Joevia, War of Will and maybe Spinoff – but rarely do deep closers win the 1½-mile marathon. Creator pulled it off in 2016, 10 years after Jazil went from last to first.
“Everfast is coming into the race as good as he can be,” Romans said. “I didn’t think I was taking as big a chance in the Preakness as a lot of the media did. I thought we took a live longshot. I feel that Saturday we are taking a horse who is live.”