SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The Dale Romans School of Driving broke in some new students at his barn Sunday morning.
While the trainer rode shotgun and held the steering wheel, the little kids giggled as they pumped the accelerator and brake with various degrees of touch. “We got some lead-foots,” Romans drily noted in his Kentucky drawl.
On the sideline, Bob Baron cracked up as his grandchildren took turns behind the wheel.
It’s not a scene you’d see during training hours at most barns on the Saratoga Race Course backstretch. Baron and Romans have a working and personal relationship that goes beyond the business of running racehorses and trying to win.
But it’s not just fun and games, certainly not during this meet. Baron’s horse Promises Fulfilled became a Grade I winner on Travers Day Saturday in the Allen Jerkens, after he won the Grade III Amsterdam earlier in the meet.
The Mohawk native and Voorheesville resident, who played quarterback at RPI from 1969-71 and runs two Albany-based construction trucking companies, started buying horses in the 1990s and did not have a graded stakes winner for almost 20 years until Promises Fulfilled won the Fountain of Youth in March.
The name of the colt reflects how he and his wife, Debbie, have followed through on their wedding vows, and in fact Baron came up with the name on their 44th wedding anniversary last summer. So his horse ownership has always been a family affair, especially through his association with the free spirit Romans.
Part of the fun this time is that they have a very good horse, one who should be a significant player at the Breeders’ Cup in November.
“It was big,” Baron said of the Jerkens victory. “But, to me, I was most excited about doing it with the family. There was my [recently deceased] uncle, and I lost my youngest brother John just a couple months ago.
“I told the kids, ‘I’ll never forget this, all of us jumping up and down and screaming.’ I’ll never forget that. So that’s a great day.”
Owner Bob Baron of Voorheesville, Tammy Fox and Dale Romans celebrate Promises Fulfilled's Allen Jerkens win pic.twitter.com/igcNQuXyAd— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) August 25, 2018
“It was very gratifying,” Romans said. “He’s such a good man, and a good family man and so connected to the area. To see him win two graded stakes at this meet, and a Grade I, it’s very special.”
Baron dedicated the Jerkens win to his uncle, also named John, who passed away Sunday, Aug. 19, and was a big racing fan whom Baron brought to Saratoga for the last 10 years.
He and Debbie have four children and 10 grandkids, seven of whom were in town for Travers Day and got driving lessons as a bonus the next morning.
Baron has been a client of Romans since shortly after he got into the ownership side, and much of the appeal is the welcoming nature of the barn.
“I like for the people I train for to see the racing’s a whole lot more than the two minutes you’re out on the racetrack,” Romans said. “You come out here to the barn and you can see we’ve got a lot of good people working here. The horses like attention. He brings his whole family, and it’s a big family affair. It’s also added pressure, because you want to do well for all of them. But those kids are great.”
“It can’t happen to a better guy,” said Baron’s friend, fellow owner Roddy Valente of Loudonville, who also has a graded stakes winner in Romans’ barn, Coach Rocks. “His life is so simple, everything around him is simple. He’s a great family man, and it’s just nice to see somebody do this well in our hometown, so to speak. And they’ve got a great run in front of them.”
The run started at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, where Romans liked a colt sired by his 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford.
That two-week sale lasts for 13 sessions, with the top end of the market offered early and total sales topping well over a quarter of a billion dollars. Sandwiched between two fillies who went for $300,000 and $360,000 in Session 4, Romans signed the ticket for Baron on the Shackleford colt, hip No. 921 in an auction that would sell 2,792 yearlings, for $37,000.
A steal, in hindsight.
Promises Fullfilled gained enough points in the Fountain of Youth to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, where he never had a shot on the muddy track and finished 15th.
“You understand where you are and how good of horses you’re in with,” Baron said. “And I also knew that day, ours was a late foal and a very light horse, and when we walked through that track it’s that sucky clay that took the shoes right off your feet, so we knew. I understood where we were.”
So did Romans, who gave Promises Fulfilled some time off to grow into his frame.
When he was ready to come back to the races, Romans also scaled back to shorter distances, and although it didn’t pay off immediately, the signs were there that he could be a top-notch sprinter/miler.
Promises Fulfilled finished third in the Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day on his way to the Amsterdam at Saratoga, which he won in convincing fashion.
“That grind was tough on him in the Derby,” Baron said. “Right after that race, we were in the tunnel, and Dale said to [jockey] Luis Saez, ‘How do you like him?’ and he said, ‘I like him a lot.’ Dale just said intuitively, ‘We’re going to go to the Amsterdam, and we’re going to go to the Allen Jerkens.’ We stuck to our plan, and it worked well.”
Baron, a member of the RPI Athletic Hall of Fame who headed the search committee that hired all-time winningest head coach Joe King, started coming to Saratoga with his parents in the 1960s.
The tradition grew to include his wife and kids, then grew even further.
“We always sat in the backyard picnic area,” Baron said. “The kids would collect cans and wash them, and Debbie would put the money in the bank for them. My memories are of the kids running around. Then her family started coming, and we’d have 20, 25 people sitting in a circle.”
So there was some familiarity to the scene at Romans’ barn on Sunday.
They’re also getting used to being in the winner’s circle as a group.
Promises Fulfilled, who could wind up up in either the BC Dirt Mile or Sprint, could take them there again, at Churchill Downs in November,
“I think he’s dangerous in either one,” Romans said. “I think he’d be the controlling speed, for sure, I don’t think there’d be anybody to run with him [early] in the Dirt Mile. And with the Sprint, there’s fast horses out there, so we’d have to weigh it all out. He can do anything, though. He’s just a really good horse.”