Call him the Todd of the Turf. Dale Romans this year has been Pletcher-like in his number of stakes starters, except he's been dominant on the grass more than the dirt. He intends to launch an all-out attack on this weekend's big stakes at Arlington Park, sending out Little Mike in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) and Silver Max, Cozzetti, and Finnegans Wake in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT).
Romans also has other major stakes performers in his barn, such as Quick Wit, who won the off-the-turf National Museum of Racing Stakes (gr. III) Aug. 10, along with grade I winners Shackleford and Dullahan. The latter also is a top-class grass horse, having finished second in this year's Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT).
But right now, Romans' attention is focused on Arlington Park, where his horses no doubt will be a major pace factor, with the speedy Little Mike and Silver Max expected to be on the lead in their respective races.
Evaluating Little Mike, a 5-year-old gelded son of Spanish Steps, is simple. He is on the lead in every race at every call. He doesn't win them all, but he sure wins most of them, and he used his speed to win the grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, as well as a number of other stakes.
Although he'll be stretching out to 1 1/4 miles for the first time, Romans believes he'll be able to carry his speed that far.
"If you look down his form his two best races have been at a mile and an eighth and no one thought he'd go that far," Romans said. "I don't think there's anyone that can run with him early. It's just a question whether he can get the distance at this level. Like Silver Max, he just breaks and runs. I'd like to see him get a few lengths in front and slow it down, and then kick in."
The same can be said of Silver Max, who has won his last seven turf starts, interrupted only by a dull effort in the slop in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III). The son of Badge of Silver also has been on the lead at every call, while capturing the grade II Virginia Derby and American Turf, grade III Transylvania Stakes, and the listed Arlington Classic and Oliver Stakes−five stakes wins at five different tracks, including a new course record 1:33.88 for the mile at Indiana Downs.
Cozzetti and Finnegans Wake like to come from off the pace, with Cozzetti coming off a victory in the American Derby (gr. IIIT) at Arlington, and Finnegans Wake closing from well back to finish third to Silver Max in the Virginia Derby. Both Cozzetti and Finnegans Wake have demonstrated their prowess on dirt as well, with Cozzetti finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) and Finnegans Wake finishing third in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III).
"If everything goes well, all three will start," Romans said. "Silver Max is in such good form he's going to be difficult to beat. But if he should stub his toe, it wouldn't surprise me if one of the other two steps up and beats him.
"It's unusual for a horse to go on such a winning streak on the grass, as Silver Max has done, and do it on the lead," Romans said. "You just drop his head and let him go. I have no concerns about it right now. In the Virginia Derby he overcame soft ground, going a mile and a quarter for the first time, and having the saddle slip on the horse next to him. If they were going to beat him, that would have been the race. If he gets through this race, we'll have a decision afterwards whether to shorten him up to a mile or stretch him out to a mile and a half. It takes a rare horse to do what he's done, but he's a rare horse. He'll be facing a deeper, stronger field, but I feel very confident. If he wins, we might try the (grade I) Joe Hirsch (Invitational Turf Classic) and then go on to the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT)."