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 on Nov. 1.
“I feel good about him,” said 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.”
All the same, he acknowledged, “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 start of his first race, then won an Ellis Park maiden race by 19 1/4 lengths. He followed that with victory in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Iroquois while geared down to become the favorite for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a debacle in which he nearly fell and wound up trailing throughout.
“He’s had four races,” Romans said. “Fifty percent have been perfect, but the other 50 percent 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 3/5 seconds. 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,” Romans said. “Whatever he did time-wise didn’t matter as along 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 said, “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. 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 said that was 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 said. “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 behavior.”
Dennis’ Moment will be ridden by the California-based Flavien Prat for the first time, subbing for Irad Ortiz, the colt’s Iroquois and Breeders’ Cup jockey who is riding Saturday in Saudi Arabia. Prat rides Albaugh’s Bob Baffert-trained Thousand Words, who is 3 for 3 after winning the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity and Grade 3 Robert Lewis. Loutsch said Thousand Words will race next in Santa Anita’s San Felipe on March 7.
Loutsch says they’ll certainly know where they stand with Dennis’ Moment after the Fountain of Youth. The 1 1/16-mile stakes is expected to attract Mucho Macho Man winner Chance It, Remsen winner Shotski, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Structor, Holy Bull runner-up Ete Indien, Mucho Macho Man runner-up As Seen on Tv and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf third-place finisher Gear Jockey.
“It looks like it’s going to be the toughest prep to date, in my opinion,” Loutsch said. “It’s a talented field. It’s going to test us and show us where we’re at real quick here.”
Jennie Rees is an Eclipse Award-winning turf writer and racing communications specialist who oversees the Thoroughbred News Service’s editorial content.