By Jennie Rees/Thoroughbred News Service
USA: Trainer Dale Romans believes he has a “superstar” in Dennis’ Moment. That leads him to feel both confidence and anxiety as Albaugh Family Stables’ standout colt prepares to run in Saturday’s $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes, a Grade 2 stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby.
After all, it’s the first race since Dennis’ Moment stumbled badly coming out of the starting gate and finished last of eight as the favorite in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita in November.
“I feel good about him,” says Romans, the lifelong Louisvillian who is Churchill Downs’ all-time win leader.
“I want him to come out and show that he’s as good as I think he is. But I think it’s going to be a good day for him – I’m very confident in him. I think he’s a superstar. I think he’s going to jump out there and run a huge race.
‘I’ve felt anxiety about this horse every day’
“I’ve felt anxiety about this horse every day since the Breeders’ Cup. It’s been a long four months waiting to get him back here to prove how good he is.”
Widely hyped before he ever ran, Dennis’ Moment has been the main story in each of his prior four starts, just not always in the way Romans or owners Dennis Albaugh and Jason Loutsch wanted.
The Tiznow colt unseated his jockey when he was squeezed and clipped heels shortly after the start of his first race, then won an Ellis Park maiden race by 19¼ lengths. He followed that with victory in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Iroquois while geared down to become the favourite for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a debacle in which he nearly fell and wound up trailing throughout.
“He’s had four races,” says Romans. “Fifty per cent have been perfect, but the other 50 per cent terrible – the first time out when he stumbled and lost his rider and the Breeders’ Cup when he stumbled to his knees and had no chance. Those are the highs and lows of sports.”
Dennis’ Moment had his final workout Sunday morning at Gulfstream Park, cruising a half-mile that Romans timed in 47.6s. Regular exercise rider Tammy Fox was aboard for the work, which was delayed a day because of torrential rain.
“I was looking for just that,” says Romans. “Whatever he did timewise didn’t matter as long as he did it easy, and he did. Tammy just sat on him and let him do his thing.”
“He stretched his legs, came back happy and Tammy gave me the two thumbs up so we’re ready to go,” said Loutsch, the stable’s racing manager and son-in-law to Albaugh, the prominent businessman and philanthropist from Ankeny, Iowa.
Asked if he felt any more trepidation going into this race, Loutsch says: “There’s just so much unknown. I had so much confidence going into the last race, and you know what happened. We just have something to prove. He has to show up.
‘He has to show he belongs at the top of the class’
“That’s the way we’re going into this: He has to step up and show that he belongs at the top of the class. We’re hoping he does that. You really don’t know what to expect after being off that long. We hope he’s matured and developed into what we think he is.”
Romans has sent Dennis’ Moment to the starting gate for morning schooling several times, but he says that is normal and not because of the Breeders’ Cup debacle.
“I’ve had him over at the gate a few times, where he’s stood and he’s perfect about it,” he says. “He already knows how to break. It really was the ground breaking out from under him. It really wasn’t his fault in the Breeders’ Cup as to why he missed the break. It’s really nothing you can teach him – there’s no bad behaviour.”
Dennis’ Moment will be ridden by the California-based Flavien Prat for the first time, subbing for Irad Ortiz, who is riding in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
Prat also rides Albaugh’s Thousand Words, who is 3-3 for Bob Baffert after winning the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity and Grade 3 Robert Lewis. Loutsch says he will race next in Santa Anita’s San Felipe on March 7.
Loutsch also says they’ll know where they stand with Dennis’ Moment after the Fountain of Youth. “It looks like it’s going to be the toughest prep to date, in my opinion,” says the owner. “It’s a talented field. It’s going to test us and show us where we’re at real quick here.”