Dale Romans has taken note of how deep the competition is for his budding turf star Duveen in the $1 million Virginia Derby on Saturday at Colonial Downs.
"Isn't it supposed to be tough for a million dollars?" Romans asked.
Yes, it's supposed to be - and it is. Duveen is one of 10 3-year-olds in the showcase race at Colonial in New Kent, Va., and horseplayers will be giving almost every one of them a decent chance to win when CBS Sports focuses its cameras on the Grade 2 turf race at 5:44 p.m. Eastern.
Besides Duveen, the 10th running of the Virginia Derby drew Summer Doldrums, the only horse still eligible for the Grand Slam of Grass bonus by virtue of his gritty win last month in the Colonial Cup; Inca King, a Steve Asmussen-trained gelding who upset Duveen in the Jefferson Cup last month at Churchill Downs and is unbeaten in three career turf tries; Strike a Deal, a two-time stakes winner on turf and a narrow loser to Summer Doldrums in the Colonial Cup; and Circular Quay, the Thunder Gulch colt who tried two-thirds of the Triple Crown series and will be racing on grass for the first time.
Circular Quay "has the pedigree to suggest that turf would be a viable option," trainer Todd Pletcher said earlier this week from New York. "This isn't necessarily a permanent thing, but we thought it was a good option at this stage. We thought it would be worth taking a shot."
As a nationally known horse, one who was 11-1 when running sixth in the Kentucky Derby and 6-1 when fifth in the Preakness, Circular Quay lends an element of credibility and a hint of glamour to the Virginia Derby, which is run at 1 1/4 miles over Colonial's 25-acre, double-wide turf course.
Since getting what Pletcher described as a "bit of a freshening" following the Preakness on May 19, Circular Quay has breezed over the inner turf course at Belmont Park turf six times, ending with a half-mile work in 48.82 seconds on Sunday.
"He has trained very well over the grass," said Pletcher. "We're optimistic."
Circular Quay will be ridden Saturday by Garrett Gomez.
Duveen was unbeaten in three turf tries going into the June 16 Jefferson Cup, then had an unlucky trip and finished second. After stumbling at the break, Duveen was bottled up along the rail and never really got comfortable while Inca King sailed along on an uncontested lead.
"I don't want to make that a huge excuse, but it was pretty obvious he didn't get to run his best race," said Romans. "He hasn't run a real big number yet, but I really think he's a top horse sitting on a breakout race. Hopefully, that's Saturday."
Duveen will be ridden by Edgar Prado, who seeks his fourth Virginia Derby victory after winning three in a row from 2002-04.
Summer Doldrums, like Circular Quay, is shipping in from New York, where he had raced exclusively until his Colonial Cup triumph on Juneo16. Making only his second start on turf, Summer Doldrums flew from well back to defeat Strike a Deal by a head. Jose Lezcano rode Summer Doldrums that day and retains the mount Saturday.
The Virginia Derby is the second of four legs in the Grand Slam of Grass series, which offers a bonus of more than $2 million for a sweep. On top of the winner's shares of the Colonial Cup, the Virginia Derby, the Aug. 11 Secretariat Stakes, and the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Turf, a $5 million bonus would be paid by Jacobs Investments in case of a sweep. Jacobs Investments, part of the family of companies under which Colonial is operated, began offering the bonus in 2005.
The other starters in the Virginia Derby are Blazing Dynamo, Red Giant, Soldier's Dancer, Love Dubai, and Top Cross. Three of them are stakes winners on turf, while Blazing Dynamo, making his stakes debut, enters off back-to-back wins at Belmont.
The Virginia Derby, first run in 1998, has become the focal point of the year at Colonial, where the 40-day meet began June 15 and runs through Aug. 7. The list of previous Virginia Derby winners is impressive, and it includes Kitten's Joy in 2004 and English Channel in 2005.
The current meet at Colonial, where roughly 75 percent of races are run over the lush turf, "is going very well," according to racing secretary Randy Wehrman. Field size is averaging 9.2 horses per race, up from 8.7 last year, and all-sources handle is running about the same as last year, when the per-day average was $1,258,193.
"The main positive sign is that our ontrack attendance is up more than 10 percent," said Wehrman. "We've done some heavy advertising and marketing, and it's been getting positive results."
Average attendance last year was 1,804.
The records for attendance and all-sources wagering for a Virginia Derby card at Colonial were set two years ago, when 8,121 ontrack fans contributed to a total handle of more than $3.7 million.
CBS coverage of the Virginia Derby runs one hour, starting at 5 p.m. ET, and will include a live broadcast of the supporting feature, the $200,000 Virginia Oaks, which directly precedes it on the 10-race card. The Virginia Derby goes as the ninth race. First post is 1 p.m. ET.