First Dude Seeks His Day in the “Sunshine”
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – To quote his trainer, First Dude is “a pretty unusual horse.”
Dale Romans, though, may have understated the utterly unique nature of the 4-year-old son of Stephen Got Even.
First Dude is truly one of a kind.
Physically, Donald Dizney’s homebred colt is a marvel, a towering mass of muscle that defies a brilliant turn of foot and accompanying agility usually associated with more athletically built horses.
Performance-wise, First Dude was among the most accomplished 3-year-old stakes performer in the country last year. After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park last January, the Florida-bred colt danced virtually every dance with the stars of his division while distinguishing himself as a quick-stepper with stamina.
His flattering 2010 resume included on-the-board finishes in five straight Grade 1 stakes, including a sharp second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes, in which Looking at Lucky had to dig deep to prevail by just three-quarters of a length; and a third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, in which the Romans trainee set the pace and continued on gamely to the wire to finish just a length behind victorious Drosselmeyer.
Although he was able to strike a high profile in Thoroughbred racing’s spotlight, First Dude was unable to strike a pose in the winner’s circle. The model of consistency has gone winless since scoring his maiden victory at Gulfstream on Jan. 30.
“He made a lot of money, but it was frustrating,” said Romans, whose trainee earned $844,640 in purses last year. “You’d like to win one of those head-bobs.”
Although First Dude is still eligible for an entry-level allowance race, there are too many lucrative opportunities for Romans to look back. First Dude will seek his second lifetime win in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream on Jan. 29, one day shy of the one-year anniversary of his maiden victory.
“I’d like him to run big in the Sunshine Millions and then go to Dubai with him,” said Romans, referring to the Dubai World Cup on March 26.
First Dude will likely be favored in the 1-1/8-mile Classic, the centerpiece of Sunshine Millions Day, when six stakes for Florida and California-bred horses will be held at Gulfstream Park (Classic, Filly and Mare Sprint, Filly and Mare Turf) and Santa Anita (Sprint, Turf, Distaff).
“It seems like he improved all year and he’s continued to improve since the Breeders’ Cup,” said Romans, whose colt finished eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic after a troubled start. “He got a little break. I think he needed it; he liked it; and he’s doing well right now.”
First Dude demonstrated an affinity for the Gulfstream surface in his maiden-breaker, as well as in a close second-place finish to Fly Down in his subsequent start. After encountering traffic in the stretch to finish fifth in the Florida Derby, Fly Down started his string of Grade 1 cashes – a third in the Blue Grass Stakes preceded the Preakness and Belmont, which were followed by third-place finishes in the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes. A drop to Grade 2 company in the Pennsylvania Derby may well have resulted in a victory, but First Dude was shut off in the stretch before rallying to second, just a neck behind Morning Line.
In the Sunshine Millions Classic, First Dude will not race with blinkers, with which he was equipped for the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
”They didn’t help him,” said Romans, who stated that Kent Desormeaux will ride First Dude for the first time in the Sunshine Millions.
First Dude will receive his final workout for his 2011 debut on Saturday. He has had a steady string of solid workouts at Gulfstream, including one five-furlong breeze on the turf course on Jan. 3.
“We were just testing him,” Romans said. “He’s out of a Smart Strike mare. We had the opportunity to do it here, and he handled it really well, so down the road maybe we’ll see him on the grass.”
But for now, First Dude will seek greener pastures on the main track in the Sunshine Millions Classic.