Making the Grade, which will run through the 2018 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
Overlooked before his Fountain of Youth win, Promises Fulfilled turned in a career-best effort to prevail by 2 ¼ lengths at 18.20-1 odds on March 3. The victory earned Promises Fulfilled 50 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby scoring system that determines the 20-horse field for the first jewel of the Triple Crown. With 52 points total, Promises Fulfilled essentially has cemented his starting spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, so let’s evaluate his chances on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
Ability: A $37,000 purchase at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale by trainer Dale Romans on behalf of owner Robert J. Baron, Promises Fulfilled showed potential right from the jump in his career debut. He immediately took command and led from start to finish in a four-length romp in a three-quarter-mile sprint on Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs. He returned 26 days later at Keeneland and led again from start to finish, this time battling gamely to hold off runner-up Smart Remark by a neck in a seven-eighths-of-a-mile race.
Promises Fulfilled earned an 88 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and a 94 for his second race.
Romans tested the chestnut colt in a stakes race in his third start, entering him in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in what was both a class and endurance hurdle as he also was stretching out in distance. As he had in his previous races, Promises Fulfilled seized command and set the pace but he faded late and finished third, beaten by 3 ½ lengths by Enticed.
Leading up to his 2018 debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Romans said the third-place finish came despite the fact that Promises Fulfilled “popped a splint” in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Popping a splint refers to inflammation of the tissue (periosteum) that overlies a splint bone (the two bones that run down either side of a horse’s cannon bones). Most splint injuries occur to a Thoroughbred’s front legs and heal with rest and veterinary treatment, which explains why Promises Fulfilled was sidelined after the Nov. 25 Kentucky Jockey Club and did not return until March 3.
Romans liked what he saw from Promises Fulfilled once he resumed training.
“I had a lot of confidence in this horse because of the way he trained,” Romans said. “He trained so well, and the race he ran when he was third was as impressive a race as a horse can run. To do what he did and be as compromised as he was and still run third to two good horses (Enticed and Tiz Mischief), he’s a special horse.”
The comeback race looked like a daunting task on paper as the Fountain of Youth drew 2017 champion 2-year-old male Good Magic, who had not raced since winning the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4, but Promises Fulfilled made it look easy.
He set the pace uncontested through a half-mile in :48.39 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.60, and Promises Fulfilled had plenty left for the stretch run after the leisurely pace. He powered away from runner-up Strike Power and third-place finisher Good Magic to win by 2 ¼ lengths and earn a new career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure.
Promises Fulfilled’s Brisnet speed figure (104) and Beyer Speed Figure (96) similarly came back very strong and stamp him a legitimate Derby contender, but there are a couple of points of caution. First, this was a huge race off the bench, which means Promises Fulfilled could regress after running what was by far (a 21-point jump according to Equibase) the fastest race of his life. Second, the main track at Gulfstream appeared to be very kind to speed horses on Saturday – none of the seven main track winners rallied from more than 3 ½ lengths back and five of seven were first or second (and within a length of the pace) after the opening quarter-mile.
There was a lot to like from Promises Fulfilled’s 3-year-old debut, but also reasonable cause to view his win with a touch of skepticism.
Running style: Promises Fulfilled is a dedicated front-runner who uses his speed to his advantage in races and prefers to set the pace. He did not face any challengers for the lead in the Fountain of Youth. That might not be the case in his next start, which could change the dynamics of the race, and he almost certainly will be challenged early in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby .
Connections: Promises Fulfilled is owned by New York native Robert J. Baron, who raced graded stakes winner Kessem Power in the late-1990s and went 19 years between graded stakes victories.
Trainer Dale Romans purchased as agent Promises Fulfilled on behalf of Baron as a yearling in 2016. The Fountain of Youth winner is a son of Shackleford, who gave Romans his lone victory in a North American classic race to date when he won the 2011 Preakness Stakes.
Romans grew up at Churchill Downs under the mentorship of his late father, trainer Jerry Romans. He has amassed 1,962 victories since he took out his own trainer’s license in 1986. He earned his first Grade 1 win in 2004 with Roses in May in the Whitney Handicap and added a second Grade 1 win a week later when Kitten’s Joy won the Secretariat Stakes. Other Triple Crown highlights include runner-up finishes in the Preakness with Cherry Wine (2016) and First Dude (2010), four third-place finishes in the Belmont Stakes, and thirds in the Kentucky Derby with Dullahan (2012) and Paddy O’Prado (2010). Romans has won three Breeders’ Cup World Championships races.
Irad Ortiz Jr. is the third different rider for Promises Fulfilled in his four career races. He rode him for the first time in the Fountain of Youth. Ortiz took out his jockey’s license in 2011 and has won 1,817 races through March 5. He earned his first graded stakes win aboard Questing in the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks in July 2012. Ortiz won the 2016 Belmont Stakes on Creator and has three Breeders’ Cup wins to his credit.
Pedigree: Promises Fulfilled is from the second crop of 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, who also won the Grade 1 Met Mile and Clark Handicap while earning $3,090,101 in three seasons. Promises Fulfilled is the fourth graded stakes winner for Shackleford, who also sired last year’s Rebel Stakes winner Malagacy.
Shackleford was a very fast racehorse who could carry his speed a long way, but it’s impossible to judge his potential as a sire with only two crops age three and older.
Just glancing at the names in this pedigree, I was skeptical about Promises Fulfilled’s chances to excel as the distances get longer, but each of his first three dams (mother, maternal grandmother, and maternal great-grandmother) won a race at a mile and 70 yards or longer.
Promises Fulfilled’s dam (mother), Marquee Delivery, by Marquetry, finished second in the Grade 3, one-mile Gardenia Stakes in 2008 and won three races at a mile or longer. Marquee Delivery also produced Grade 3-placed multiple stakes winner Marquee Miss, whose best win came in the one-mile Martha Washington Stakes in 2016.
Promises Fulfilled’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Fast Delivery, by Little Missouri, won three stakes, including a pair at 1 1/16 miles, and produced a stakes winner. Third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Copelan’s Girl, by Copelan, won six races at a mile or longer, including multiple wins at 1 1/16 miles.
With three wins in four starts and a logical excuse for his lone defeat, sufficient points to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby, and encouraging speed figures earned in his Fountain of Youth win, Promises Fulfilled suddenly looks like a serious player on the Triple Crown trail.