Should Albaugh Family Stables' Free Drop Billy deny Justify's quest for the Triple Crown in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) on June 9, don't be surprised if trainer Dale Romans credits karma as much as the colt's credentials.
On the evening of June 5, his first night in New York for what will be his ninth Belmont Stakes, Romans attended a New York Mets game that followed a post-position draw and roundtable discussion for the race hosted at Citi Field in Queens.
At one point during the game, Romans left his seat in the left-field stands and came across a young woman in her mid-20s who appeared to be choking. Without hesitation, the Louisville native stepped in to help.
"I came up the back of the steps toward the restroom, and this lady and her daughter are there. She's kind of bent over a table, one of those little things around the post where you put your condiments and stuff. You could tell she was in distress," Romans said. "Her mother keeps telling the security guard, 'Get somebody, help her, get somebody.' I walked over and said, 'Do you want the Heimlich?' And she shook her head yes. She couldn't speak.
"I grabbed her, and two or three pops and she got rid of what was in her throat, got up and she was fine. She might not have died, but it definitely got her out of distress. She might have died; she couldn't breathe. It was interesting, to say the least," he added. "Maybe I get a little divine intervention Saturday."
Romans, who has finished third in the Belmont four times (including 2015 when American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought between Triple Crowns), said it was the second time he had performed the Heimlich maneuver. The other came several years ago on Buzz Chace, a prominent bloodstock agent who died of cancer in 2013.
"We were playing golf one day, and he got a hot dog stuck in his throat. He was bad. He would have died, but I got it out of him," Romans said. "Everybody should learn the Heimlich."
Free Drop Billy, the only grade 1 winner in the Belmont besides Justify, got his first look at Belmont Park with one lap around the 1 1/2-mile main track under exercise rider Juan Segundo shortly before 9 a.m. EDT Thursday. He arrived in New York on Wednesday afternoon on the same flight as Justify, and the two were on the track together Thursday morning.
"What'd you think? I thought he looked good, real good," Romans said of Free Drop Billy, a 30-1 outsider on the morning-line whose sire, Union Rags , upset Romans-trained favorite Dullahan in the 2012 Belmont. "He looked excellent, about as good as he's ever looked—ears up, happy, content. He just kind of bounced around there."
Romans said Free Drop Billy will get more familiar with the expansive Belmont surroundings on his way to the track Friday morning, also after the renovation break.
"The hard part's behind us now. It's just a matter of keeping him happy," Romans said. "We'll do the same thing tomorrow, but we'll go through the paddock. We'll just give him a chance to look around."