Dale Romans does not sound very worried about Dennis’ Moment repeating the bad start that he had in the Breeders’ Cup.
“I’m not going to blame it on any one thing,” he said. “It’s one of those things.”
One of those indelible things. The lingering image of Dennis’ Moment dropping to his front knees when the gates flew open at Santa Anita last fall. His last-place finish as the 9-10 favorite in the Juvenile was the last time that most racing fans saw him.
“I watched it enough that day,” Romans said. “I never want to see it again.”
After a four-month break, Dennis’ Moment (2-1) comes back Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Florida, where he is the morning-line favorite against 11 other 3-year-olds in the $400,000 Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. The winner of the 8½-furlong race is virtually assured of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby.
Sired by Tiznow, Dennis’ Moment has raced four times – three as an odds-on favorite – with two impressive triumphs. He has also had two hard-luck results. His debut was short-circuited June 23 when he clipped heels with a rival, unseating Robby Albarado. Then came a 19¼-length maiden score with Miguel Mena. Next came a geared-down win in the Iroquois and then the frustration of the Breeders’ Cup, both with two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Írad Ortiz Jr.
Despite what happened at Santa Anita, Romans stuck with his plan to give Dennis’ Moment a break.
“It was hard not to fire him back in there one more time to give him a chance at champion 2-year-old,” Romans said. “We figured the best chance we had on the Triple Crown trail was to give him a little break, and that’s what we’ve done.”
As a pace chaser, Dennis’ Moment should thrive coming out of post position 5 on the surplus of early speed in Saturday’s race. The most likely pacesetters are familiar with the course – As Seen on Tv (9-2) was a close second last month in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes; Todd Pletcher’s Candy Tycoon (15-1) led from gate to wire five weeks ago in a four-length maiden win over 8½ furlongs.
Other pace chasers like Dennis’ Moment include Mucho Macho Man winner Chance It (7-2), this month’s Holy Bull runner-up Été Indien (8-1), Remsen winner and Withers runner-up Shotski (10-1) and two-time stakes winner Liam’s Lucky Charm (15-1), a colt that burst through the gate before being reloaded only to burn out to a 10th-place finish two weeks ago in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds. Maiden winners Country Grammer (15-1) and Masterday (30-1) and winless turf graduate Gear Jockey (20-1) will also be forward in the early running.
The two deep closers – Makabim (50-1) and The Falcon (50-1) – looks outclassed. Makabim’s only two wins came against Florida claimers. The Falcon is 0-for-2 and, as is owner Ron Paolucci’s wont, will be on his third jockey.
In addition to the venue, the biggest change for Dennis’ Moment is his jockey. With Ortiz committed to riding overseas in Saturday’s $20 million Saudi Cup, Flavien Prat flies in from California to accept the mount from Romans – and maybe not just for this race. Many jockeys riding at Riyadh this weekend will also be at Dubai World Cup night March 28, the same date as the Florida Derby.
“It’ll be interesting to see how all that sorts out,” Romans told VSiN. “And Flavien still has (Derby contender) Thousand Words for Bob Baffert out on the west coast. That was one of the factors riding Flavien; that it wouldn’t be a big deal to put Írad back on for the next start. When you have a solid racehorse, you can usually get a solid jockey.”
Horseplayers still appear to be bullish on Dennis’ Moment. He remains the 8-1 second choice behind 6-1 Tiz The Law in the Kentucky Derby futures at William Hill Nevada. Impressed with what he felt would be an overlay on Derby day, Romans was reminded that his colt still has to get to the gate on May 2.
“We can get him there,” he said. “It’s getting him out of the gate. He went and stood in the gate (last week). I told him he was going back to face the enemy.”
Romans has been upbeat all week in the buildup to the Fountain of Youth. Now he hopes to maintain that feeling into spring, when he tries for the 10th time to get his first Kentucky Derby victory. Nine weeks out Romans is already hearing the familiar questions about how special that would be, what with his being born 53 years ago in Louisville.
“They say that,” he said. “I’m sure of that. But I don’t care if they’re from Siberia. If you stay in this game long enough, you realize that the pinnacle is the Kentucky Derby.”
For Romans it could come as long as his best chance this year gets out of the gate cleanly every time the bell rings. What he does not need is a repeat of – wait for it – Dennis’s worst moment.
Racing notes and opinions
Although Dennis’ Moment has already demonstrated his ability to compete at any level among the 2020 crop of 3-year-olds, his short odds for me are a betting repellent. So, too, was the draw for the three outside horses – Shotski, Été Indien and Chance It – whose posts are a combined 2-for-38 (5.3 percent) for two-turn races during the current Gulfstream Park meet. Throwing out the race fillers that are at least 20-1, that leaves Candy Tycoon on a live rail, As Seen on Tv, Country Grammer and Liam’s Lucky Charm. I could live with boxing those four, but Dennis’ Moment might still win, and he certainly should hit the board. My lean is to Liam’s Lucky Charm. Although he was keyed up before the Risen Star two weeks ago, jockey Édgard Zayas wrapped him up once he knew it was not their day. With two wins, a second and two thirds in five starts at Gulfstream Park, I hope to get every bit of his 15-1 morning line. I will key Liam’s Lucky Charm on my tickets, singling him first, second and third on separate 50-cent trifecta tickets with the other four horses boxed into the remaining places. In other words, 9 / 1-5-6-7 / 1-5-6-7, then 1-5-6-7 / 9 / 1-5-6-7 and then 1-5-6-7 / 1-5-6-7 / 9. Total cost: $18. Post time is scheduled for Saturday at 6:04 p.m. EST – plus the requisite six-minute post drag at Gulfstream Park.
The Fountain of Youth field was diluted this week when graded-stakes winners Structor and Green Light Go were removed from consideration because of injuries. Trainer Chad Brown did not get into specifics when he said that a “setback” prevented Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Structor from making his dirt debut. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said that a fever would keep Saratoga Special victor Green Light Go from making his first start since finishing third in this month’s Swale Stakes. Neither Brown nor Jerkens said what might be next for those colts. The field also lacks Palm Springs, Pletcher’s maiden winner that was bought as a yearling for $1 million by Justify’s owners China Horse Club and WinStar Farm. After Palm Springs was nominated but finally not entered into the Fountain of Youth, connections did not say what might be next for him.
Led by 2019 champion 3-year-old Maximum Security (11-4 in Europe per Oddschecker.com), the four leading American contenders were bundled in the middle of the post draw for Saturday’s inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup, now the richest race in the world. Maximum Security drew post 7 in the field of 14, McKinzie (7-2) drew 9, Mucho Gusto (7-1) got post 8 and Midnight Bisou (10-1) post 6 for her first race against the boys. Although this is a 1⅛-mile race, it has only one turn, making this a back-to-the-future proposition for the Americans. In one-turn races Maximum Security is 5-for-5, Mucho Gusto 3-for-3, McKinzie 2-for-3 – and probably should be 3-for-3 if not for Mike Smith’s sketchy ride in last year’s Met Mile – and Midnight Bisou is 1-for-3. She would be a toss for me; I do not see the second coming of Zenyatta. McKinzie is a year older than Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto, and since each of the boys is carrying 126 pounds, I give him the edge here. But they all may lose to the Godolphin 6-year-old Benbatl (7-1), a Grade 2 winner in his dirt debut this month at Meydan against a field that included Gronkowski (33-1). Benbatl’s only recent loss on good-to-firm turf was in the 2018 Cox Plate to a mare you might have heard of – Winx. By the way, U.S. bettors should take note that program and saddle-cloth numbers do not match post positions. With clear weather and a temperature around 80, the race is scheduled to start at 12:40 p.m. EST, which is 8:40 p.m. local time at Riyadh.
In some ways, A.P. Indy’s death last week at age 31 punctuated a bygone era that racing can only hope to recapture. He was after all the U.S. champion of 1992, a year when racetracks still attracted five-digit crowds on weekdays. His victories that year in the Belmont Stakes and a career-ending Breeders’ Cup Classic stamped him a worthy descendant of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. But like his sire, A.P. Indy was even better as a stallion, validated by his becoming a Hall of Famer in 2000 and a chef-de-race in 2008. His bloodline extended to the likes of Pulpit and Tapit, Mineshaft and Bernardini, Rags To Riches and Honor Code, California Chrome and West Coast and, dare I say, Flatter. His stud fee reached $300,000 before he was pensioned in 2011. His final years were spent in a familiar barn stall in Kentucky, making him a must-see attraction for racing fans and animal lovers. A statement from his breeding home last week summarized his legacy, saying that A.P. Indy “was the most important and popular member of the Lane’s End team.”
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. talks about Chance It’s bid to win this weekend’s Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Florida. Horse Race Insider’s John Pricci handicaps the race and also discusses the push to shorten the 10-year drug ban of trainer Rick Dutrow. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher and is sponsored by Xpressbet.