Louisville, Ky.-born trainer Dale Romans will play a strong hand on June 28 when he sends out the accomplished duo of millionaire Silver Max and 2010 winner Guys Reward in a bid to win the $200,000 Firecracker Stakes (gr. IIT) for 3-year-olds and up on Churchill Downs' Matt Winn Turf Course.
A win by either of Romans' charges over their six rivals on Saturday would be the trainer's fourth Firecracker victory in the race's past 10 renewals. He collected his first Firecracker win in 2005 with 2004 champion turf male Kitten's Joy , and followed that victory with successful runs by Thorn Song in 2008 and the win by Guys Reward two years later.
Mark Bacon and Dana Wells' Silver Max is the likely favorite in the Firecracker although he has not raced since a fourth-place finish to two-time Horse of the Year and two-time Firecracker winner Wise Dan in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park. The Breeders' Cup loss snapped a three-race win streak for the son of Badge of Silver that included an upset over Wise Dan on Keeneland's Polytrack course in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I), a race that was moved from the grass course because of excessive rain.
Regular rider Robby Albarado will be in the saddle aboard the 5-year-old Silver Max, whose record of 11-5-1 in 23 races includes nine stakes victories. The Shadwell Turf Mile was his only grade I triumph, but he has two wins in three stakes starts over the Churchill Downs grass course.
Guys Reward's 2012 Firecracker victory remains the career high point for the 7-year-old son of Grand Reward, who has earned $665,903 for owner Michael Bruder while compiling a record of 8-5-10 in 44 races. Jesus Castanon will ride from post 1.
A major Firecracker rival for the Romans-trained duo could be Richard Sherman's Nikki's Sandcastle, a 7-year-old Castledale gelding who won the grade III Hanshin over Polytrack at Arlington Park in his most recent start.
Vinery Stables Regally Ready, winner of the 2011 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) at Churchill, stretched out to defeat Firecracker rival and Wise Dan's stablemate Villandry in the 1 1/16-mile Opening Verse on May 31 at Churchill. The 7-year-old More Than Ready gelding has a career record of 13-2-6 in 33 races and has earned $1,423,518.
$200,000 Firecracker Stakes (gr. IIT, race 8, approximate post time 4:18 p.m. EDT) 3YO&Up, One Mile, Turf
PP, Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Guys Reward (KY), J L Castanon, D. Romans
2. Free World (KY), C J Lanerie, T. Amoss
3. Valentino Beauty (KY), B J Hernandez Jr., T. Drury Jr.
4. Nikki's Sandcastle (KY), L R Goncalves, D. Kassen
5. Silver Max (KY), R Albarado, D. Romans
6. Villandry (KY), J R Leparoux, C. LoPresti
7. Joha (KY), J Rocco Jr., J. Flores
8. Regally Ready (KY), S. Bridgmohan, S. Asmussen
All horses will carry 121 pounds