He has been knocking on the door for years—and this could be the year it finally swings open.
Trainer Dale Romans brings Dullahan—the winner of the 88th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland—to the 138th Kentucky Derby.
Dullahan is Roman's fourth Derby horse. His first, Sharp Humor, was a non-factor when he finished in 19th place in 2006.
However, the last two years have seen Romans knocking on the door. Paddy O'Prado finished in third back in 2010, while Shackleford led most of the way last year before fading down the final stretch to finish fourth. Shackleford rebounded two weeks later to win the Preakness—Romans' first American Classic win.
This might be the year the Louisville native finally gets his first Derby win. Dullahan, ranked sixth in the latest ABR three-year-old poll, knocked off the reigning two-year old champion, Hansen, en route to his Blue Grass win.
The chestnut colt did not just look good—he looked great.
Biding his time in 10th, Dullahan—ridden by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux—began passing horses along the rail on the far turn, then swung out wide for the stretch drive without hitting any traffic along the way. Down the stretch, Dullahan came flying down the middle of the Polytrack surface, going past Hansen with relative ease and finishing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:47.94.
Hall of Fame jockey Desormeaux told Daily Racing Form after the win, "Right at the quarter pole he switched leads, and as soon as he straightened up, there was a big hole that he ran right through. He was very strong all the way to the wire."
He added, "I didn't care where he was, as long as he was floating. He was on the bridle and floating—which was too good to be true. That horse was trained to the minute. Do it again Dale—one more time."
After Dullahan's effort in the Blue Grass, Romans said:
"I'm absolutely thrilled," said Romans, who, like most trainers, has made winning the Derby his No. 1 goal. "We're going home with a major threat to win the Kentucky Derby."
The Derby will be Dullahan's third start off the layoff, and the Kentucky thoroughbred seems poised for another big effort on the big day. Dullahan has three races at Churchill Downs under his belt, including a fourth-placed finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall.
He seems built for the 1 1/4-mile distance, showing great stamina and a tremendous kick in the Blue Grass. Dullahan is also the half-brother of Mine That Bird, the 2009 Derby winner. Unlike Mine That Bird, a 50-1 longshot when he won the Derby, Dullahan is not going to sneak up on anyone.
Romans is a second generation trainer. He credits his father, Jerry, as having the greatest influence on his career, which started with him training horses at the age of 19 in 1986. A win at the Derby would not just be a win for Dale, but for his father too.
Romans has won nearly 600 races at Churchill Downs. On May 5, he could finally capture his greatest win of them all.