That's what trainer Dale Romans hopes to be saying about 6:25 p.m. Saturday in the winner's circle at Pimlico Race Course. Naturally, the inflection will be positive. As in Dude, seriously, I knew this horse was good.
Romans, 44, brought two runners to Maryland for the race. The first, Paddy O'Prado, skipped over the slop at Churchill Downs in the week leading up to Derby Day and created quite a buzz with his sparkling move. With a solid third-place effort in the Run for the Roses, he cemented his status as a viable 3-year-old contender for the continuing season. In the Preakness, the son of El Prado is good to go.
Romans' second contender, First Dude, is a big bay galoot who stayed back in the barn on Derby Day after losing his chance at a spot in the starting gate when he was surpassed on the graded-earnings list. After a third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 11 (an effort that came after the Stephen Got Even colt was bounced around at the start of a race over a synthetic surface for which he demonstrates no affinity), the trainer believes extra time to develop could give his powerful runner an edge.
The Preakness contenders shipped in Wednesday afternoon and were assigned Nos. 10 and 11, respectively, in the post position draw that evening. Standing on the front side at Pimlico the next morning, Romans looked out over the infield and watched as his second-string runner completed a circuit of the track. First Dude appeared to relish the experience; he galloped with his ears pricked forward and a powerful, long-reaching stride."He's cumbersome; it takes him a little while," the trainer said. "But nothing bothers him. He's a big horse that's coming into his own; just a grinder that keeps on going. He never gets tired."
First Dude, homebred in Florida by owner Donald Dizney, ran second twice to late-developing 3-year-old contender Fly Down, an impressive winner of the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on Sunday. His lone victory from six starts came in a maiden special weight on Jan. 30 at Gulfstream Park. He also ran fifth in the Florida Derby behind a quartet that included winner Ice Box and runner-up Pleasant Prince. While Ice Box is pointing to the Belmont, Pleasant Prince will break from post position No. 3 in the Preakness.
"I thought that horse's win in the Dwyer complimented my horse immensely," Romans said. "In the Blue Grass, he kind of got left behind, and it really messed up the whole race for him. I think there's a chance he's going to be laying pretty close [to the pace]. We're going to analyze the pace factors and everything over the next couple days and see where it looks like he should be, but [jockey] Ramon [Dominguez] will have a lot of decisions he can make from the 11-hole. If a lot of horses send, he can set right off of them, and if nobody sends, I think he can go on and be there."
Romans is a blue-collar worker -- two kids, two dogs, a bunch of horses he's good at training. These are his first Preakness starters, although he came here in 2006 and "was robbed," as he describes it, of the Black-Eyed Susan victory on a DQ with Smart N Pretty.
"I've been everywhere on the racetrack from the barn to the infield to millionaires' row," he joked, "and my favorite was the infield."
On Saturday, he has two shots at finding a new favorite place. The Preakness trophy could be waiting there.
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