Yet, when the 28th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame for 3-year-olds came off the grass at Saratoga Race Course on Friday, Romans had a feeling Quick Wit might have an even better chance to win.
Romans was elated in the winner’s circle after Quick Wit completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.95 over a sloppy track to win by a nose.
“This horse has form on the dirt,” he said of Quick Wit, who broke his maiden on dirt at Gulfstream Park and finished third in the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes there. “I thought if it came off [the grass] he might have a better chance. It was just a matter of if he would move up. He has steadily improved and gotten better and better.”
Securing the victory wasn’t easy, as the favorite Casba proved stubborn in defeat. When the gate opened, Csaba bumped with Skyring as the two were hustled to the front. Csaba, entered in the race by Florida-based trainer Phil Gleaves off a fast front-running stakes score July 21 at Calder, led by a half-length through a quarter-mile in 23.63 seconds and a half in 48.08.
Quick Wit raced within two lengths of the leader, just off the rail, while Skyring pressed the pace on the outside. When the field hit the turn, Skyring began to back out of the chase and Quick Wit moved to Csaba’s right flank.
At the quarter pole, both runners were set down for the drive, with Csaba on the inside. Quick Wit forged ahead, but just before the wire Csaba fought back to equal terms with one final push and just fell short.
“I thought he ran game when he was headed,” Gleaves said of Csaba. “It looked like he was going to back up, and he came back again. I don’t know how the race is going to shape up time-wise, but I was very proud of his effort. It was a long way to come to get beat a nose.”
It was 4 ¾ lengths back to Daddy Nose Best in third, followed by Shkspeare Shaliyah, Optimizer, Skyring and Raconteur.
Romans trained Sharp Humor, the sire of Quick Wit, and picked out the son at the 2011 Keeneland Association November Breeding Stock Sale for $32,000.
“I’m a huge fan of Sharp Humor because he was my horse,” Romans said. “That’s why I went and looked at [Quick Wit at the sale], and I liked him.”
With the $120,000 winner’s purse, Quick Wit increased his career earnings to $223,761 in 10 starts. He paid $23.80 for a $2 win bet as the 10-1 sixth choice in the field of seven.