Steven Chircop wasn’t certain he would send his exciting colt ROMANTIC GAMBLE, whom he trains as well as owns with friend Eric Ross, to Aqueduct racetrack in New York for the March 25 Claiming Championships. The $50,000 Dads Caps Starter race had been in the back of Chircop’s mind for some time for his Ontario-bred colt who had just won an allowance race at Penn National in Pennsylvania 10 days earlier. But a first look at the entries for the six-furlong dash and Chircop saw tough stalwart Easy Day in the entries, a horse who posted a 97 Beyer Figure in a recent win at Parx. That gave Chircop cause for pause.
“A lot of things had to go right for us to consider sending him to Aqueduct,” said Chircop, a Woodbine owner and trainer who is in his 15th year stabling horses at Penn National in the winter. “I thought his allowance win was a bit too close to the race and it was a 3 1/2 hour ship.”
But when Romantic Gamble came out of his March 15 romp at Penn National like a bear – ‘we couldn’t keep him on the ground’ – and Aqueduct ponied up $1,000 for shipping plus the prospect of a wet track, Chircop decided to go for it.
On a track listed as ‘good’, the son of Ontario stallion Gamble’s Exchange was sent off at 8-to-1 and dropped back some seven lengths behind Easy Day early in the race.
“He was a bit further back than I thought he would be,” said Chircop, who was at Aqueduct with Ross and groom Shane Barnes. “I thought maybe he could get up for third, maybe second.”
And then the colt turned on the jets and charged past Easy Day to win by a length in a final time of 1:11.93. He earned a lifetime best 94 Beyer Speed Figure according to Daily Racing Form.
“It was fantastic,” said Chircop. “It was like winning a stakes race, especially when there were so many loopholes and things to work out.”
Romantic Gamble has been a tremendous success story for Chircop and Ross, who have owned a couple of horses together since about 2017 but have increased their stable to about half a dozen currently. Chircop was looking for horses to take to Penn National late in the Woodbine season and had his eyes on Romantic Gamble and another horse in the same $10,000 claiming race in November.
He claimed the other horse and that one won the race but Romantic Gamble was second by a head. Chircop contacted owner and breeder Ivan Dalos and trainer Josie Carroll and bought the colt privately.
By the Dalos stallion Gamble’s Exchange, Romantic Gamble won the second time out in his career in a maiden allowance at Woodbine early in 2021. He was on the edges in a couple of juvenile stakes races and ended up in lower claiming races last fall.
“He came to me in great shape and he is a beautiful horse,” said Chircop. “I changed a couple of little things and his training a bit. I don’t know if it was that or whether [his improvement] has been because of the dirt.”
Romantic Gamble has won 3 of 5 races this year, was second by half a length in another and then ran into an injured horse in another race.
Chircop hopes the colt is just improving with maturity and age and after a short break, he will seek out a race for him at Woodbine on the Tapeta.
The Toronto trainer is one win away from 200 career wins and he is a super 14 for 50 in 2023. He heads back to his home track shortly and will have some two dozen horses stabled at Woodbine.
At Gulfstream Park in Florida on Saturday, STANLEY HOUSE (Army Mule – Stormy’s Song by Unbridled’s Song) jumped into the picture for the 164th KING’S PLATE with a solid win in a maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles on the Tapeta surface.
Owned by John and Diana Russell and trained by Mike DePaulo, Stanley House was making his second start of the 2023 season and, with Javier Castellano on board, tracked the pace from about four lengths off, moved wide on the last turn and powered to a 2 3/4 length win in 1:43.24, good for an 83 Beyer Speed Figure according to Daily Racing Form.
A dark bay colt, Stanley House was a $120,000 yearling purchase by the Russells from the 2021 Fasig-Tipton October yearling sale. The colt had been sold as a weanling by Hill n’ Dale Sales Agency at the 2020 Keeneland November Breeding sale for $80,000.
From the first crop of undefeated Grade 1 winner Army Mule (Freisian Fire), Stanley House was bred by Elevage II (John Sikura, Jr. and Craig Bernick) and St. Elias Stable, owned by Vincent Viola. Stanley House was foaled at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in Nobleton.