Trainer Dale Romans, who has already has established a personal record for single-season North American earnings in 2012, will have multiple chances to take down additional lucrative prizes over the next two weeks at Belmont Park as he has Shackleford set for the Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso Handicap and Little Mike and Finnegans Wake confirmed for the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational on September 29 and Dullahan primed for the Grade 1, $400,000 Jamaica Handicap on October 6.
Shackleford will be returning to the scene of his victory in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, which was contested over the Kelso's one-mile distance in May.
The 4-year-old breezed five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on Sunday at Churchill Downs as he gears up for what will be his first race since an eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 5 at Saratoga Race Course. He originally was pointed toward Saratoga's Grade 1 Forego on September 1 but bypassed the race after developing a cough.
“It was as good of a work as he's ever had, and we did the right thing by skipping the Forego,” said Romans, who trains the chestnut for Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and the Phillips Racing Partnership. “We're looking for a big effort from him.”
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational will be the first start at 1 ½ miles for both 5-year-old Little Mike and 3-year-old Finnegans Wake, with the latter also set to take on older horses for the first time.
Owned by Priscilla Vaccarezza, Little Mike will attempt to carry his speed an additional quarter mile after leading the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million from gate to wire on August 18. The gelding posted a 1:03 2/5 five-furlong breeze on Saturday at Churchill.
“[The distance is] a question mark,” said Romans. “It always is whenever you try something for the first time, but he's done everything we've asked him to do. Pace is the race. That's the key with him.”
Both Finnegans Wake, second in the Grade 1 Secretariat on August 18 at Arlington Park, and Dullahan, winner of the Grade 1 Pacific Classic over older horses on August 26 at Del Mar, race for Donegal Racing and turned in Saturday breezes at Churchill Downs. Finnegans Wake went six furlongs in 1:15 4/5, with Dullahan going five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.
Romans considered running Dullahan in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic before opting to send Finnegans Wake to the race. Instead, Dullahan will compete in the Jamaica, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds, one week later.
“It was less about timing [to the Breeders' Cup in November] for Dullahan than it was about giving Finnegans Wake the chance to try a mile and a half,” said Romans of the decision. “I think [Finnegans Wake is] going to relish the distance.”
Dullahan, a three-time Grade 1 winner on synthetic surfaces, will be making his first start on grass in the Jamaica since finishing second in the Grade 3 Palm Beach in March.
“By sending Dullahan to the Jamaica, he still gets to try the turf while getting to stay against straight 3-year-olds,” said Romans.
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