Trainer Dale Romans knows full well he is in the midst of a banner year from every statistical standpoint. But that didn't take the sting out of the ice-cold buckets of water thrown over the Louisville native's depth-laden shedrow of late.
In the past few weeks, Romans' flag bearers Tapitsfly, Shackleford, and Dullahan have all finished off the board in their Grade I outings — with Shackleford's last-place effort in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt on Aug. 5 probably the most painful.
"The summer ... hasn't been great, but it hasn't been terrible," Romans said. "I'd hate for anybody to feel sorry for us."
That's because Romans is slated to unleash an arsenal at Arlington Park this weekend.
The prestigious trio of Grade I turf races that make up the Arlington Million lineup Saturday could well turn into Romans' personal showcase. In addition to saddling 6-1 co-third choice Little Mike in the 30th running of the 11/4-mile marquee race, Romans has three horses entered in the Grade I Secretariat for 3-year-olds including 9-5 morning-line choice Silver Max, who drew the outside post in the eight-horse field.
Though his stablemates and fellow Secretariat entrants Cozzetti and Finnegans Wake buoy Romans, Silver Max would be the stunner of the weekend should he falter. The son of Badge of Silver brings a six-race win streak featuring three graded stakes triumphs, the most recent being a stellar 1-length victory in the Grade II Virginia Derby.
If ever Silver Max had an excuse not to win, the Virginia Derby was it. Racing over a yielding course, the bay colt faced the challenge of a rank gelding on the front end when Two Months Rent's saddle slipped down the backstretch.
Showing his ability and maturity, Silver Max — who won the Arlington Classic Stakes in May — proceeded to rate without issue before drawing off for a 1-length win under jockey Robby Albarado.
"Silver Max is in such good form, and he's just such a nice horse that he's going to be difficult to beat," Romans said. "But if he was to stub his toe or something goes wrong in the race, it wouldn't surprise me if one of these other two were the ones to beat him.
"(The Virginia Derby) showed me a lot with the horse, though, but he didn't get aggressive. He would've had plenty of excuses to get beat in the last race, and he didn't do it. So, you know, I really don't have a concern with him right now."
The 11/4-mile Secretariat distance will be a question for most horses in that field, and it will be the main concern Romans has for Little Mike in the Arlington Million.
The 5-year-old gelded son of Spanish Steps won the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic going 11⁄8 miles at Churchill Downs on May 5 and was third most recently in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile.
Against a solid group that includes Group I winner Crackerjack King, last year's Secretariat Stakes winner Treasure Beach and 4-1 morning-line favorite Boisterous, Little Mike will have to be at his tactical best.
"Every time you ask a horse to do something for the first time you have to cross your fingers a little bit," Romans said of the distance question. "But I think if you look at his form, his two best races are a mile and an eighth, and nobody thought he would ever go that far. Maybe with a little different pace scenario he can stretch that speed."
Romans is leaving the Grade I, $750,000 Beverly D. for someone else as he does not have a runner in the 13⁄16-mile filly and mare test.
The Tom Proctor-trained Marketing Mix was made the 3-1 morning-line choice off her win in the Grade II Dance Smartly.