There are grade I races and there are grade I races--the races trainers see themselves winning in the most pleasant of dreams. In knocking down several races from the latter category in 2012, Dale Romans landed his first Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer.
Shackleford , who in 2011 secured Romans' first classic win, won two more grade I races in 2012 including the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. Dullahan won a top Triple Crown prep race in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) then in the summer nailed down the richest West Coast race for older horses, the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar (gr. I). And with Little Mike, Romans picked up three of the greatest U.S. turf races (all gr. IT): the Breeders' Cup Turf, Arlington Million, and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes.
Details of these wins only flatter Romans' accomplishments. Shackleford is the first classic winner to take the Met Mile since Arts and Letters in 1969. Conquistador Cielo won the Met Mile in 1982 before winning the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Little Mike is the first U.S.-based horse to win the Arlington Million and Breeders' Cup Turf in the same year. Dullahan is the first 3-year-old to win the Pacific Classic since Came Home in 2002.
Romans boasted four horses with more than one grade I victory in 2012 as Little Mike won three, Dullahan two, Shackleford two--closing his career with a Clark Handicap win--and Tapitsfly with two.
Based in Kentucky and New York, Romans successfully shipped all over the country. His 27 stakes wins came at 12 different tracks. While Romans competes on a national level, Little Mike's owner/breeder Carlo Vaccarezza said the 46-year-old conditioner from Louisville maintains a personal touch.
"Other trainers seem to get upset if you call them once a week. All they want to tell you is when your horse has been entered," Vaccarezza said. "I discuss everything with Dale: when the horse is going to ship, who's going to ride him."
Because Romans has developed a family atmosphere, Vaccarezza said he has made relationships with Shackleford co-owner Mike Lauffer and Tapitsfly owner Frank Jones Jr.
"We sit together at races. We all wish each other the best," Vaccarezza said.
In 2012 many of those wishes came true for Romans.