There are some trainers who refuse to tip their hand with their pre-race comments, always taking the cautious approach when asked about the potential of their protégés. Then there is the force that is Dale Romans.
Confidence is rarely in short supply where the Louisville native is concerned, and that theory extends to him talking up the runners in his barn he feels have the look of something special. It has bitten him as much as it has panned out, but he didn't become an Eclipse Award winner by failing to stick to his guns.
In the days leading up to the March 3 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, Romans looked at the field—which contained reigning juvenile champion Good Magic in his season debut—and said he wouldn't be shocked if the chestnut heading to the winner's circle after his seasonal bow was Robert J. Baron's Promises Fulfilled.
"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 (in the grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November) was as impressive a race as a horse can run."
There will be no backing off that sentiment now for Romans, not after he watched the son of Shackleford take a page from his sire's front-running playbook and produce a gate-to-wire, 2 1/4-length upset win over Strike Power in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth while Good Magic leveled out to finish third.
Good Magic's defeat marked the second straight season the reigning 2-year-old champion male has been derailed over the Gulfstream main track; 2016 Eclipse Award winner Classic Empire was third during his seasonal bow in the 2017 Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2). Considering Good Magic was making just his fourth career start and first outing since breaking his maiden in the Nov. 4 Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Del Mar, it stood to reason the son of Curlin may have needed a race. Only the boldest figured it would be the 18-1 shot from Romans' barn that would take advantage of that vulnerability.
"He's been training lights-out for the last four, five weeks coming into the race. And (Dale) said before the race, 'We're going to send him,' and we sent him," said Baron, who has had horses with Romans for about 20 years. "He's got that kind of speed. Irad (Ortiz Jr.) rode him perfect."
Promises Fulfilled was himself coming off a bit of a layoff, having not run since finishing third after setting the pace in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Instead of bearing rust, his legs boasted sharpness, breaking well from the outside post in the nine-horse field and being hustled toward the rail by Ortiz to open a two-length edge over Strike Power around the first turn.
As Promises Fulfilled reached the first quarter-mile in :23.80, Good Magic settled fourth in an outside path as the pacesetter left the half-mile in :48.39. With Strike Power surging up to his hip and the divisional champion moving up three-wide around the far turn, Promises Fulfilled kicked into another gear and continued to stride out in the final sixteenth on his way to hitting the wire in 1:44.17 for 1 1/16 miles over a track rated fast.
"I thought that he could open up, and he did," said Romans, who also saddled seventh-place finisher Storm Runner and scratched grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy out of the race to point that one to the March 10 Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack instead. "It was a bunch of fast horses, but a lot of times that speed doesn't materialize, and coming from the outside it kind of pressed our hand. On the turn, if you wait to see what everybody else does, you're going to be hung wide.
"I just told the jock, 'Push the pedal and try to open up and see where they go from there. If somebody comes and chases you down the backside, then ride a smart race.' They let him go in :48 with his ears up, and I knew it was going to take a heck of a horse to pass him at that point."
Where Irad Ortiz Jr. was getting all the right answers out of Promises Fulfilled, his brother Jose Ortiz on 3-5 favorite Good Magic was coming across the line third, another 2 1/4 lengths behind Strike Power.
"I sat third in the perfect position, rode him like the best horse," Jose Ortiz said. "They slowed it down on the backside pretty good, going :23, :48, but my horse was pretty handy getting whatever I wanted to. When I went after them in the three-eighths pole, he didn't kick very well. It's a speed-favoring track with a short stretch, but no excuses. He's coming off the layoff, and I'm sure he will move forward with this race under his belt. Next time we'll be OK."
Owners Stonestreet Stables and e Five Racing had stated they planned to give Good Magic just two preps in advance of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). Though Promises Fulfilled picked up 50 qualifying points with his victory, Good Magic is still third on the leaderboard with 34 points for trainer Chad Brown.
"He got a good trip. He had no trouble and got good position early," Brown said. "The latter part of the race, he didn't have it. The horse came back a little tired. He was blowing pretty good. It looked like he needed the race. Hopefully, he got what he needed out of it and go on to the next step."
Strike Power, who was stretching out to two turns following his win in the Swale Stakes (G3), did well to rate and hold for runner-up honors.
"(Jockey) Luis (Saez) said, 'We broke sharp. If I tried to go, we'd be going to go too fast,'" trainer Mark Hennig said. "He said, 'Let me just set off him.' He thought he had him when he switched leads, but the horse kept going. I think he got a little tired. Hopefully, he can keep moving forward."
Bred in Kentucky by David Jacobs out of the Marquetry mare Marquee Delivery, Promises Fulfilled was also making just his fourth start, having started his career with a four-length maiden win first time out Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs. He followed with an allowance victory in front-running fashion at Keeneland before diving into stakes company in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
His sire, Shackleford, became Romans' first classic winner when he captured the 2011 Preakness Stakes (G1). Not surprisingly, Romans didn't shy away from drawing comparisons between Promises Fulfilled and his multiple grade 1-winning old man.
"He looked a lot like him turning for home," said Romans, who purchased Promises Fulfilled for $37,000 as agent from Select Sales' draft to the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale. "Hopefully we'll be back to run in the (grade 1) Florida Derby like his father did."