By Bill Finley
Back in early 2022 when John and Diane Fradkin announced that their homebred GI Preakness winner Rombauer (Twirling Candy) was being retired after suffering a soft tissue injury they went to work to find him his new home. The horse has a good pedigree and is a Grade I winner, so the expectations were that he'd stand at stud in Kentucky. Regional markets were also considered. Another option was Japan. But no matter where their horse might land, the Fradkins decided that Rombauer's racing career was over.
That was the plan, until the plan went awry. Rombauer's current home is not in Central Kentucky but in South Florida. Based at Gulfstream Park for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., Rombauer is in training and could make his next start some time next month. He has not raced since finishing third more than two years ago in the 2021 GI Belmont S.
“I never expected this,” John Fradkin said.
The calls began after the decision was made to retire Rombauer and the Fradkins reached out to all the usual suspects. While they were willing to listen to any offers, they felt their horse had done enough to have earned the right to stand in Kentucky. He had also won the El Camino Real Derby and finished second in the GI American Pharoah S. and third in the GII Blue Grass S. while earning $1,040,500. He was a winner on dirt, turf and synthetic. Those are solid credentials, but the Kentucky farms weren't sold.
“The only real market in this country is Kentucky and Kentucky wasn't interested in him, which shocked me,” Fradkin said. “I never received a real offer in writing at any price. I did offer the horse to several places for what I thought was a spectacular deal, where they would almost be guaranteed to get their money back in one year, and they still didn't take it.”
The Japanese weren't interested, either, Fradkin said. He might have been able to find a farm outside of Kentucky to take Rombauer, but he didn't aggressively pursue that avenue. Whether it was from Kentucky, Japan, New York, California, Maryland, Fradkin said he never received an official offer in writing for the horse from anyone.
“The plan was to have him stand in Kentucky,” Fradkin said. “Plan B was Japan. Plan C was to run him again, and that's what we are doing. To borrow a quote from Jena Antonucci, 'when there's no seat at the table, you have to build your own table.'”
Fradkin admits that not everyone among the group that teamed up to win the Preakness was on board with the comeback. Rombauer was trained by Michael McCarthy and the Fradkins offered to give him the horse back. He declined.
“Michael wasn't that receptive to training him for a comeback,” Fradkin said. “His exact comment was that he had done enough and should be a stallion. I don't disagree with that, but the stallion farms weren't interested in him. We couldn't force them to take the horse. Michael is a conservative guy and I respect that. He just didn't want to be responsible if something goes wrong. I have two trainers and Saffie is my East Coast trainer. Saffie was up for it. So he's with Saffie now.”
After the Belmont, Rombauer was training at Del Mar and the Fradkins were looking at races like the GI Haskell S. and the GI Travers S. After McCarthy expressed concerns that the horse wasn't 100 percent, they gave him 90 days off. Back in training and gearing up for a 4-year-old campaign, Rombauer suffered the soft tissue injury and the decision was made to retire him.
After deciding to regroup because of the lack of interest from the stallion farms, the Fradkins put Rombauer back into light training at WinStar Farm on Dec. 1. The next stop was Ocala and from there he went to Joseph's barn at Gulfstream, where he arrived in mid-June. He has had two official workouts for Joseph, both at three furlongs. Fradkin is thrilled with how the horse is doing.
“Rombauer is happy and thriving at the racetrack,” he said. “I am sure that he enjoys being back in training.”
Should Rombauer make it back to the races in August that will mean a gap of about 26 months between races. Fradkin believes it's an obstacle he can overcome.
“The world is going to get to see a bigger, faster version of Rombauer,” he said. “One thing people may remember about him is that in his moment of glory in the Preakness he looked like this little horse galloping by these much bigger horses. I think people will be surprised by how big he is now. It's not for sure that we'll make it back. Things could always go wrong. But if he makes it back he's going to make it back at a high level.”
For the Fradkins, the ideal scenario would be for the now 5-year-old to win some major races during his comeback, to do enough that next time around the major Kentucky stallion farms will come knocking on their door. If not, Fradkin is confident he will be able to work out a deal with a farm in another state.
“He will be a stallion some day,” he said. “So far as where, we'll just have to see how things turn out. In the meantime, we're ready to try him on the big stage once again.”