Road to 2023 Kentucky Derby: Dale Romans Talks Louisville Roots, Cyclone Mischief in Florida Derby

The Life
Trainer Dale Romans Cyclone Mischief Gulfstream Park Florida Derby Kentucky Derby
Dale Romans, right, with Zoe Cadman at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys as they travel the Road to the 149th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

This week’s installment features trainer Dale Romans. The Louisville native has nurtured the dream of saddling a Kentucky Derby winner since he was a boy helping his father, Jerry, a trainer at Churchill Downs. Dale, 56, is best known for Keen Ice’s upset of American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. He broke through in the Triple Crown races with Shackleford in the 2011 Preakness.

Romans is on the Derby trail with Cyclone Mischief, who needs a strong performance in the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farms at Xalapa on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The Into Mischief colt comes off an encouraging third-place effort in the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in which he set the pace before weakening.

The Florida Derby offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers according to a 100-40-30-20-10 basis. Cyclone Mischief enters the last major South Florida prep with 15 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

Romans discussed his Louisville roots, Cyclone Mischief’s prospects, and his difficult decision to undergo life-changing weight-loss surgery as part of a question-and-answer session conducted on behalf of America’s Best Racing.

PEDULLA: What is the most important lesson you learned from your father?

ROMANS: Probably that there are a lot of ways to measure success and one of them is just staying in the game and being around and being able to do it over a lot of years.

PEDULLA: Was your career path always clear?

ROMANS: Never thought about doing anything else. Ever since I can remember, it was always about racehorses.

Cyclone Mischief (Gulfstream Park/Lauren King)

PEDULLA: You were part of the team that picked out Cyclone Mischief for Albaugh Family Stables at Keeneland’s September yearling sale. What convinced you and others that he was worth his $450,000 purchase price?

ROMANS: We have a big team that works for Albaugh and there is a system they put in place. They have to jump through a lot of hoops. He had the right pedigree, he had the right look. He ended up on our short list and, luckily enough, we ended up with him.

PEDULLA: The fact that he is an April 30 foal, does that work against him a bit?

ROMANS: It probably has. We haven’t seen the best of him yet.

PEDULLA: When he ran seventh as a beaten favorite in the Feb. 4 Holy Bull Stakes, does that race remain a mystery to you?

ROMANS: Yeah, he just threw in a clunker.

PEDULLA: How encouraged were you by the Fountain of Youth?

ROMANS: I thought that was one of the best races that’s been run this spring by 3-year-olds with the quality of the field, so it gives us a lot of hope.

PEDULLA: Cyclone Mischief set the pace in the Fountain of Youth. Did it just happen that way or is that the way he wants to run?

ROMANS: One thing we’ve learned is just don’t take a hold of him. If he’s laying third, that’s fine. Just don’t try to take a hold of him and take him back.

PEDULLA: Forte is an overwhelming favorite in the Florida Derby. What are your expectations for Cyclone Mischief in that race?

ROMANS: We know it’s going to be hard to beat the champion. But we’d like to pick up enough points to get to the next level and try to figure out a way in the Derby to beat him.

PEDULLA: How good is Forte?

Dale Romans (Coady Photography)

ROMANS: I was super-impressed with him. Obviously, he had a great 2-year-old season. Not every horse turns the corner from 2 to 3. It sure looks like he did. It looks like he is, by far, the head of the crop.

PEDULLA: You have always been candid about your life-long struggle to lose weight. When you finally underwent successful gastric-sleeve surgery on Dec. 15, 2021, was that a difficult decision?

ROMANS: It was. It took me a while to bite the bullet. But I knew a lot of people who had it done, people I trusted, and they all gave me the advice to do it. It was the best thing I ever did.

PEDULLA: Your weight had reached 385 pounds. Is it fair to describe the procedure as life-changing for you?

ROMANS: Life-changing and life-extending.

PEDULLA: Lastly, as a native of Louisville, do you feel more pressure to win the Kentucky Derby?

ROMANS: I don’t think I feel any more than anybody else. I think there are a lot of people in Louisville who would like to see me win one and I appreciate that. I think there is more support than pressure.

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