Dale Romans never did take Medal Count off his pedestal.
No trainer likes to concede a horse he had top-level aspirations for wasn't going to live up to the billing. And despite three prior off-the-board outings by Medal Count in graded stakes races, Romans was steadfast in believing he wasn't wrong that the son of Dynaformer could prevail in open company.
Bullish as Romans was prior to Friday's Grade III, $100,000 Transylvania Stakes on the opening day of Keeneland's Spring Meet, he was justifiably boastful in the aftermath as Medal Count slipped through the inside to earn his first graded stakes win by 11/4 lengths.
The 11⁄16-mile Transylvania was originally scheduled to be held on the turf but was moved to the main Polytrack after rain soaked the area most of Thursday and Friday morning.
Romans declared last November that if Medal Count didn't turn into one of his better runners "it'll be the most wrong I've ever been about a horse."
In his second try over the Keeneland Polytrack — the first being a fifth-place finish in the Grade III Bourbon Stakes last October — Medal Count got a ground-saving trip under jockey Robby Albarado, advancing from next-to-last in the eight-horse field before darting inside of race-favorite Storming Inti coming off the final turn.
"He's the real deal, I've said it all along," Romans said. "He's done everything we've wanted him to do and this performance kind of put it all together. I wouldn't be surprised if he started reeling them off from here.
"I just think learning how to run, learning to overcome some adversity (has been the difference). Today he had a little adversity early, he got his feet back under him, and did the things you want a good horse to do."
Medal Count now has wins over dirt, turf, and synthetic tracks, breaking his maiden on the main track at Ellis Park last September and dead-heating for victory going 71/2 furlongs on the grass at Gulfstream Park on Jan.12.
His fifth-place effort in the Grade II Fountain of Youth seemed to spell the end of his Kentucky Derby hopes, but Romans said he will give owner B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm the hard sell about possibly wheeling back for the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes here next Saturday.
"If I owned him, he'd be right here in the Blue Grass," Romans said. "We could do a lot of things, we could try and make the Preakness, we could still try and make a Derby horse out of him. He's such a strong horse, whatever we did, I think he'd do it well."
Sent off at 3-to-1 odds, Medal Count settled inside as Laddie Boy took the field through fractions of :23.52 and :47.59. After surging past rivals coming off the final turn, he turned back an outside rally from runner-up Picozza as that one edged third-place finisher Woodfield Springs by a neck. Storming Inti faded to fourth.
"It's hard to find excuses when you get beat, but unfortunately today for some reason he didn't fire," said Javier Castellano, jockey of Storming Inti.
Final time for the Transylvania was 1:43.35.
"Dale has always thought (Medal Count) was really talented and we'd seen glimpses of it here and there," said Ken Wilkins, stallion director for Spendthrift Farm. "He just needed to get the right trip and he got it today."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl. Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.