At Thoroughbred sales, size really does matter. Young horses generally need to be at least of average height for their age to attract notice, and those that are particularly diminutive just don't get as much attention.
In the case of the filly Abscond, Jerry Romans, Jr. was willing to overlook her short stature.
He picked up the now 2-year-old daughter of Blame for $35,000 as a weanling at the Keeneland November sale, sold her at the September sale for $90,000, and was thrilled to watch the filly win the Grade 1 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine last month.
“She was just a little peanut, but Tim said the whole family is kind of squatty but they can really run,” said Romans. “She filled out, but she never quite grew up. Outside of being small, I really couldn't knock her, though.”
Abscond and her dam, the Grand Slam mare Solitary Life, were both owned by the late Australian-based brothers Donard and Michael Niall and raised at the Turney's Shamrock Glen Farm. Romans also keeps his horses at Shamrock Glen, so he'd seen Abscond and her dam before the sale.
The Turneys were also very familiar with Abscond's female family. Her second dam, Lonely Fact (Known Fact), produced four six-figure earners and 10 total winners, including South African champion mare Overarching and her full brother, the Grade 3 winning Temeraine.
Romans relayed that the Turneys had started working for the Niall brothers around the time that Temeraine was a 2-year-old.
“Tim went to go look at him at the training center, and they told him that they'd been training the colt but no one had ever told them where to send him,” said Romans. “Tim had them send him to Tom Proctor, and he immediately called and said, 'There's no way they've been training this horse. He's way too fat.'
“About a week later, Proctor called back. He said, 'I have to apologize, this might be the fittest horse I have in the barn. He's just short and squat, kind of like me!'”
Temeraine ran out earnings of $558,949 over 22 starts, winning the G3 Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs and placing in four other graded stakes. He also ran fifth in both the G1 Arlington Million and the G1 Canadian International.
Also on Abscond's page is the talented turf mare Cambodia, a seven-time winner for earnings of $858,913. Twice G1-placed, Cambodia ran third in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf in 2017 at Del Mar.
“We never didn't like her,” Romans said of Abscond. “She had a great page, but it is a business and she showed well at September. I put what I thought was a pretty aggressive reserve on her for $60,000, but both Eddie Kenneally and Wayne Catalano liked her and drove the price up.”
Kenneally placed the winning bid at $90,000, and though the filly went through the ring at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old in training sale earlier this year, she did not meet her reserve when bidding stopped at $30,000.
She went on to break her maiden sprinting at Ellis Park in July and ran a good second in the listed Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga in her second start. In that 5 ½-furlong turf race, she was defeated by Wesley Ward trainee Kimari, a filly who ran second in Royal Ascot's G2 Queen Mary Stakes and recently captured the “Win and You're In” Indian Summer Stakes at Keeneland over males.
“She's really not bred to be a sprinter, so for her to break her maiden sprinting and run that well in the stakes against Wesley's filly, that was impressive,” Romans said.
Stretching out to a mile in her next start, Woodbine's G1 Natalma, Abscond battled for the lead throughout and was between rivals in the stretch, but got her head in front at the wire.
“You could barely see her surrounded by those two bigger fillies, but she knew right where the finish was,” said Romans, laughing. “She wouldn't let them get by her. I told Kenneally that I don't think there's been too many 'Win and You're In' Grade 1 winners bought for under $100,000 this year – he got lucky!”
“She's a fighter,” echoed jockey Irad Ortiz. “She fought with the outside horse and came back on the inside. She fought back and she put a head in front in the last couple of jumps. Everything worked out good for us.”
With a berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and a Grade 1 win on her resume, Abscond is also entered in the Keeneland November sale with Hunter Valley Farm as consignor.
Romans doesn't regret selling Abscond as a yearling. The son of trainer Jerry Romans and older brother of trainer Dale Romans, he grew up around racehorses but eventually decided he'd make his living outside the sport. After 32 years in the tobacco industry, he returned to Thoroughbreds on the bloodstock end.
“I always though I would go back to training, but with all these new regulations and issues with finding good help, I really don't want to,” he explained. “I figured out that the breeding side has just as much aggravation as racing, so now I tried to have a full circle operation, with a few mares, a few pinhooks, and a few racehorses.
“Still, I only work with trainers who will work with me, like Hamilton Smith and Greg Foley and Michelle Lovell. I'm pretty heavily involved in the decision-making process.”
The best horse Romans ever owned and raced was the mare Sassy Image, winner of the 2010 G1 Humana Distaff and a six-time winner at Churchill Downs.
He has a few young horses in training that he's excited about now, and he's enjoying the ride toward the Breeders' Cup alongside Kenneally and Abscond.
“She might not be very big, but she sure runs big,” Romans concluded.
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