ELMONT, N.Y. -- Thus far, it has been a pretty good Triple Crown for trainer Dale Romans. It could get a lot better.
After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby with Paddy O'Prado and second in the Preakness with First Dude, Romans will try to continue the upward trend when he brings First Dude back in Saturday's 142nd Belmont Stakes. First Dude is the only member of the 12-horse Preakness field to run back in the Belmont and will be one of just four horses that will have run in two of the three legs of the Triple Crown. Barring a late entry, no horse this year will run in all three Triple Crown races.
"He's a big strong horse, I think he can handle a lot," Romans said Saturday morning. "He's taken everything we've ever given him and bounces right back."
After shipping from Baltimore to Kentucky the day after the Preakness, First Dude was vanned to Belmont Park on May 22. Following a week of galloping over the main track, First Dude worked five furlongs in 1:00.88 Saturday morning with exercise rider Tammy Fox in the irons.
Fox let First Dude have a strong run-up to the five-furlong pole and the colt went in fractions of 11.78 seconds, 23.67, 35.88, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.83.
"He looked good, he looks like he does when he goes by himself," Romans said. "He does everything easy; looks like he's just galloping. Time wasn't bad, looked like he got a little something out of it. I'm glad we got up here and got to train over this track."
First Dude, a son of Stephen Got Even, has a win and four seconds from seven starts. A free-running horse with a long stride, First Dude appears to do his best running when close to the pace. In January, in a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream Park, First Dude pressed a solid pace and drew off to win by 2 3/4 lengths.
In his next race, a 1 1/8-mile allowance race, he put away the odds-on favorite Colizeo, but couldn't hold off the late run from Fly Down, the same horse that beat First Dude in a maiden race last Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs.
"We did all the work, especially in the Florida race, set some fast fractions and then put away the 4-5 favorite, and then tried to re-engage when he came to us and fought to the wire and just couldn't stay in front of him," Romans said.
After encountering some trouble when racing off the pace in both the Florida Derby and Blue Grass, First Dude set the pace in the Preakness. Despite running fast early fractions of 22.91, 46.47, and 1:11.22, First Dude still had enough to fight with Lookin At Lucky through the stretch before falling three-quarters of a length short under Ramon Dominguez.
"The plan wasn't the whole time no matter what go to the front," Romans said. "It was just give him a chance leaving there, see where he ended up. Out of the 11-hole he cleared everybody pretty easy. He was going along there fast, but Ramon said he felt like he was comfortable the whole time he was doing it."
Romans said First Dude doesn't have to necessarily be on the lead in the Belmont Stakes, but with a dearth of speed, it is quite likely he will be the pacesetter again.
"He doesn't have to do it, it just depends on how the race set up and we'll pretty much just leave that up to Ramon," Romans said "But as long as he gets a clear trip where he's not stopped and has to restart I think he'll be just fine."
Just seconds before First Dude broke off for his workout, Uptowncharlybrown and stablemate Trappe Shot were getting into their five-furlong move. The duo broke from the half-mile pole, with Uptowncharlybrown inside of Trappe Shot. They were clocked in fractions of 24.20 and 48.40, and completed five furlongs in 1:01.20.
"I wish the Belmont was today instead of next week," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "He's doing great, ready to go. Distance is a question mark, but it's a question mark for everybody."