The last couple days have seen trainer Dale Romans dominate the news coming out of Churchill Downs for reasons he would just as soon put behind him.
In Saturday’s Grade II, $224,800 Firecracker Stakes, Romans was able to celebrate the kind of victory he wants to keep making headlines for as he saddled Grade I winner Silver Max to a front-running triumph in what was the colt’s first start since last November.
The 5-year-old son of Badge of Silver provided trainer Romans with a fourth victory in the Firecracker as he held off late runs by Nikki’s Sandcastle and stablemate Guys Reward, who finished a nose apart in second and third, respectively. In heading every point of call in the Firecracker, Silver Max – who defeated eventual two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan in an off-the-turf edition of the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last October – looked to be in top form in his first start since running fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last November 2.
“I was more nervous before this race than before any other just to see how he came back and, boy, he delivered,” said Mark Bacon, who co-owns Silver Max along with Dana Wells. “Dale and his team did absolute right thing with him. It was great to give him some time off. (Jockey) Robby (Albarado) said he was really impressed with the way he did it and the way he galloped out so we’re looking forward to the future. It was good to get the first one under the belt.”
The win was especially satisfying for Romans, who was involved in a well publicized fist fight with Eddie Musselman, publisher of the satirical backside newsletter known as “Indian Charlie” on the Churchill backside days ago.
Silver Max put the focus on Romans for the right reasons Saturday as he opened a clear lead breaking from post five and took the field of eight older horses through fractions of :23.65, :46.83, 1:09.98 and 1:21.74 without much pressure. The bay horse drifted out a bit entering the stretch when fellow Grade I winner Regally Ready ranged up to challenge around the final turn but he turned that one back and continued on doggedly to hold off his rivals and clock the mile on firm turf in 1:34.21.
“It was unbelievable. It was his first race back and when that horse (Regally Ready) ran up to him on turn I was thinking that maybe if I didn’t have him tight enough that the horse might get by him,” Romans said. “But he’s just class and with these class athletes you can’t mess ’em up; I just need to stay out of his way and he’ll get the job done for me.”
The Firecracker win lifted Silver Max’s career record to 12-5-1 in 24 races and the $135,195 winner’s share of the Firecracker purse boosted his career earnings to $1,913,598.
“This win means a lot because these are good people,” Romans said. “Mark (Bacon) and I have been good friends since high school and it’s a lot of fun to win for them. I told Mark that we were friends before we bought the horse for $20,000 and now we’re really good friends. This is special and he’s a special horse.”