No matter the surface, the distance or the age group last season, it seemed you couldn't fill an entry box on a big day without a threatening presence from the barn of Dale Romans cropping up.
After a 2012 season that saw the Louisville native saddle a career-best 20 graded stakes winners including nine Grade I triumphs, Romans' status as one of the elite horsemen in the game was crystallized Saturday night when he was honored with his first Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer at the 42nd annual ceremonies.
Taking a page from many of his charges, Romans defeated a staunch "field" as Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and five-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher were also finalists for the hardware.
While Pletcher and Baffert were 1-2, respectively, for top trainers by earnings in 2012, the Romans armada delivered in the biggest moments. Little Mike, a finalist for champion turf male and champion older male, racked up three Grade I wins including milestone scores in the Arlington Million and Breeders' Cup Turf.
Fan favorite Shackleford, a finalist for champion male sprinter, went from winning the Grade I Met Mile to taking the Grade I Clark Handicap at year's end while stablemate Dullahan became the first 3-year-old since 2002 to defeat older horses in the Grade I Pacific Classic.
"I was talking to my good friend (Hall of Famer trainer) Allen Jerkens and he told me in 1973, his acceptance speech was simple — it takes good horses and good owners to make a good horse trainer," Romans said Saturday. "I was fortunate to have some great horses and some even greater owners to work for. Just way too many people to thank."
Romans earned 119 first-place votes, 32 more than Pletcher, who was second in the balloting.
One of the more bittersweet honorees of the evening was Ramon Dominguez, who won his third straight Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey. The 36-year-old Dominguez, who joins Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey as the only jockeys to win the Eclipse Award in three or more consecutive years, is currently hospitalized at Jamaica (N.Y.) Hospital Medical Center after suffering a slightly displaced skull fracture as a result of a spill Friday at Aqueduct Racetrack. (Details on Page D7)
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's racing and breeding operation enjoyed a banner night in its own right Saturday with Godolphin Racing taking the Eclipse Award for outstanding owner and Darley ending Adena Springs' run of dominance in the outstanding breeder category.
Godolphin led all owners by graded stakes winners in North America with 15. Of the eight Grade I wins earned by Godolphin, seven of those winners were Darley homebreds. One of those homebreds, multiple Grade I winner Questing, was honored as champion 3-year-old filly.
Jose Montano was named outstanding apprentice jockey.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl