When Triple Crown nominations closed in January, Dale Romans didn’t think Donegal Racing’s Vow to Wager was ready for such a daunting journey.
But over the last two months, the dark bay or brown son of Broken Vow has done everything right in order to prove Romans wrong. Vow to Wager, who finished second by a quarter of a length last out in the Feb. 27 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park, and was placed first via disqualification, will now answer even more questions for Romans when he attempts to take the Florence, Ky. track's Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) March 27.
After Vow to Wager finished unplaced in all three of his starts as a 2-year-old, Romans put all thoughts of the Run for the Roses aside.
“Mentally, he never figured the game out (last year),” said Romans during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference March 23. “He always trained well in the mornings, and he was one of the best-looking horses we had in the barn, but he just couldn’t put it together in a race.”
Things began to look up, however, when Vow to Wager launched his sophomore season with a 5 1/2-length romp in a maiden special weight contest at Turfway Jan. 31.
“We thought with experience, eventually, the switch would turn on, and I think it did when he won his maiden race--he ran a pretty powerful race. But we got a little ambitious with him off a maiden race running him back in a $100,000 race (John Battaglia Memorial Stakes). But he had always trained so good, and I figured if he was eating good and he would run the way he was training, we might as well run him in a bigger spot, and it worked out for us.”
Romans hopes Vow to Wager continues to prove doubters wrong and that his performance in the 1 1/8-mile Lane’s End is strong enough to warrant supplementing him to the Triple Crown for $6,000.
The colt, who will be ridden by jockey Victor Lebron in the Lane’s End, is currently working at Churchill Downs, where Romans said he is relishing the dirt surface.
“He’s at Churchill training right now, and seems to really get over the ground well,” said Romans. “He’s had a couple of good works there. If he runs 1 or 2, then we’d have to put up the $6,000 and look to run him in the (Kentucky) Derby.”
“There are a bunch of competitive horses in the race. It’s going to be an even bunch of horses, and it’s nice to know you do like (synthetic) going into it and you have a jockey that knows how to ride that racetrack.”
According to Turfway Park’s track notes, the list of probable starters for the Lane’s End Stakes recently grew with the addition of the John Sadler-trained Ranger Heartley.
Ranger Heartley has four wins in 10 starts, each time leading all the way. He most recently was fifth in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields, beaten less than four lengths by Connemara, who also is expected for the Lane’s End.
“We’re looking for another chance to keep him on the Derby trail, and we wanted to keep him on the synthetic, so we decided to take him out of town,” said Sadler. “It wasn’t that smooth last time (in the El Camino Real), but he’s been training forward since that race. He worked three-quarters in 12 and 2 yesterday (1:12.40 at Santa Anita, second of 12 at six furlongs). I’m not concerned about the distance (of the Lane’s End) but he likes to be on the lead, so it depends on what kind of trip he gets.”
Sadler claimed Ranger Heartley for $32,000 at Hollywood Park last July for owners David and Herb Alpert. “You’re not thinking ‘Derby’ then,” said Sadler. “You just hope he’s worth the money. So he’s been a big thrill for us and the Alperts because he turned out to be better than that. He’s won four races for us, including a stake (the California Derby). You always hope they’re as good as what you pay for them, but when they turn out to be better, that’s what keeps you in the game.”
Other Lane's End probable Chief Counsel has a win, two seconds, and two thirds in five starts but has never raced past seven furlongs, so the Lane’s End’s 1 1/8-mile distance is the obvious question. “For a $500,000 purse we’ll see if he can get the distance,” said trainer Bill Mott. “Seriously, he did well when we stretched him out on the Beard course at Keeneland, so there’s no reason to think he can’t get two turns.”
Chief Counsel most recently was second in the Feb. 15 OBS Sprint Stakes, his first start since October. “I expect him to move forward in his second start off the layoff, if he can get the distance,” said Mott.
The colt breezed four furlongs March 21 at Payson Park Training Center, posting a bullet :49 flat among 31 at the distance. His rider for the Lane’s End has not been named.
D. Wayne Lukas trainee Northern Giant was third in the Risen Star (gr. II), beaten less than two lengths. “We had two options, the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), or Lane’s End,” said Lukas. “We thought he ran well enough in the Risen Star to merit trying this race and feel he’s well placed here. The distance won’t be a problem, and (jockey) Calvin Borel is a plus. The only gray area is the synthetic surface.”
Northern Giant’s last work came March 21 at Oaklawn Park, a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.40, second-fastest of 20 at the distance over a track rated good.