Ask trainer Dale Romans a question and — good, bad or indifferent — you're going to get an unfiltered opinion. Where some horsemen hold words and emotions close to the vest, Romans is most at ease letting them fly.
Last November, as Romans assessed his then-juveniles, he declared that if Spendthrift Farm's Medal Count didn't materialize into something good "it'll be the most wrong I've ever been about a horse."
This time of year it is all about having a 3-year-old who can be a certain kind of good, the type with the potential to be on another level the first Saturday in May.
Romans is giving Medal Count every chance to join that category. And if he springs the upset in Saturday's Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, it will be a most satisfying feather in the cap of the Eclipse Award-winning trainer of 2012.
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"You know I've always been high on Medal Count," said Romans, who will also saddle Hesinfront in the 13-horse field for the Fountain of Youth. "I think he's an exceptional horse and he deserves a chance to be on the Kentucky Derby path. He has the looks, he has the pedigree, he has the mentality and he has the ability. It's just a matter of him putting it together, figuring the game out and being as competitive as he is talented."
Impressive allowance winners Top Billing and Commissioner are being hailed as the favorites in the 11⁄16-mile Fountain of Youth, as each owns a two-turn victory over the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track.
Unlike the favorites, Medal Count has been in the graded stakes trenches. On those stages, the son of Dynaformer has yet to show the ability that has teased Romans.
After being beaten by little more than 2 lengths while finishing fifth in the Grade III Bourbon Stakes over the Keeneland Polytrack, Medal Count ran 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last November, Romans said he can find no obvious excuses for that effort.
When Medal Count overcame a pedestrian pace to dead-heat for the victory going 71/2 furlongs on the Gulfstream Park turf on Jan. 12, Romans viewed it as a corner-turning performance. He also immediately began plotting the colt's return to dirt.
"They say that about any Dynaformer or horse with his pedigree," Romans said when asked about Medal Count being viewed as more of a turf threat. "But this horse I think will do anything you ask him to do. He's an outlier that really doesn't have to be put into a box. He can run on dirt, he can run on turf. I'm going to keep that mind-set until he proves me wrong."
Fueling Medal Count supporters is the recollection of his maiden victory last September when he drew off to win by 61/4 lengths going 1 mile on the dirt at Ellis Park.
Romans has a lot of promising images of the colt rolling around in his head, ones he hopes to see justified before his eyes.
"Both of my horses have to step up a little here," Romans said "But after (Medal Count's) last race, he showed me he could overcome adversity and still get up to win."
Bond Holder to miss Risen Star Stakes
Grade I winner Bond Holder was scratched out of Saturday's Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds after getting banged up during a rough flight from his base in California to Louisiana.
According to a posting on trainer Doug O'Neill's Facebook page Wednesday, Bond Holder will now be pointed toward the Grade II, 11⁄16-mile San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park on March 8.
The Risen Star was slated to be Bond Holder's first start since finishing fourth in the Grade I CashCall Futurity last December. Bond Holder broke his maiden in the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita last September and was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.