Trainer Michael McCarthy left all future race options in play for Rombauer, who accomplished a scintillating triumph in the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby. The 3-year-old Twirling Candy colt owned and bred by John and Diane Fradkin in Kentucky stamped himself as one to be reckoned with on the trail to the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) with his stirring victory on the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields.
“The horse is still up in San Francisco,” McCarthy said from his Santa Anita Park headquarters Feb. 14. “We’ll kind of give him a few days to get his feet underneath him and formulate a game plan the next week or two. There are a lot of options out there right now; they’re all in play.”
Making his 3-year-old debut, Rombauer closed from 11 1/2 lengths behind at the half-mile pole in the nine-furlong El Camino Real Derby to get up by a neck as the 6-5 favorite under Kyle Frey, going four wide in the stretch.
Rombauer had shown a penchant for making up ground in each of his four previous races, always closer at the finish than he was at the head of the stretch, but he outdid himself winning the El Camino Real Derby which earned him 10 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and an all-expenses paid berth to the May 15 Preakness Stakes (G1).
McCarthy did have some reservations with Rombauer’s chance of victory when he was still nine lengths behind entering the stretch.
“He was a little farther back than I would have liked,” McCarthy said. “But I did not want to get hung wide into the first turn and have him run a mile and quarter in February instead of a mile and an eighth.
“The plan was always to try and save ground into the first turn, we did that and may have sacrificed a few lengths in doing so, but the horse seemed to find his stride coming through the lane.
“It was good enough to get up. I knew a mile and an eighth would not be an issue with him.”
Rombauer is based at Santa Anita with a plethora of other Triple Crown hopefuls that include Life Is Good, Freedom Fighter, Medina Spirit, and Concert Tour for Bob Baffert; Dream Shake for Peter Eurton; Hot Rod Charlie and The Great One for Doug O’Neill; and Roman Centurian for Simon Callaghan. He did not surprise McCarthy, who won the El Camino Real Derby in 2018 with the filly Paved.
Should Rombauer make it to the Kentucky Derby it would be a first for McCarthy, who experienced racing’s most famous race multiple times while an assistant with Todd Pletcher, but never with a horse he trained.
McCarthy has more to look forward to these days than a trek down the Triple Crown trail. The native of Youngstown, Ohio, who celebrated his 50th birthday Feb. 1, has Independence Hall ticketed for the March 6 Santa Anita Handicap (G1), multiple graded stakes winner Smooth Like Strait on course for the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1T) the same day, and Moraz likely for the March 7 Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3).