One of racing's most distinctive, and successful, training teams are once again eyeing the big prize at the Dubai World Cup with Little Mike and Dullahan.
It's taking two to tango for couple at Dubai World Cup
In 2005, the Dubai World Cup brought them stardom. Eight years after training Roses In May to glory in the world's richest race, the team of Dale Romans and Tammy Fox are again eyeing the biggest prize.
"It literally changed my career. It changed my life, basically," Romans said this week of the biggest win of his career.
"I went back home and I was looked at a little bit differently, and the better horses started to come. And I can accredit a lot of that to Roses in May that night here in Dubai."
His partner of 22 years, Fox, was still a jockey at the time; today she is half of one of racing's most distinctive, and successful, training teams. It seems obligatory to refer to them as the little-and-large team, but when it comes to producing winning horses, their duties are equally vital.
Fox is the exercise rider, the one who puts the horses through their paces and evaluates their performances. Are they more comfortable on the inside? Or the outside? How do they react to different surfaces? Or the weather?
She is become Romans's eyes and ears on the track.
"I get on eight or nine horses a day, and when I get back I give Dale feedback on how they performed and how I feel about them," she says. "He will then check on their condition after they returned from their gallop, making sure they are walking properly and looking and feeling good."
Fox hints that she perhaps gave up life as a jockey a bit early. But it was decision made for the benefit of her family.
"I do miss it a lot," the mother of two says. "I stopped about six years ago. It was Dale who put the brakes on. He said: 'I don't want to raise our kids by myself'."
Clearly she has not lost her competitive edge. "If I could be riding, I would still do it," Fox, 48, says, before acknowledging that accidents are as likely in training as they are in racing.
But she concentrates now on training, and she couldn't be happier with the two horses that she and Romans are grooming for today's racecard.
Little Mike, owned by Priscilla Vaccarezza, is racing in the Dubai Duty Free, while Donegal Racing's Dullahan is going for the big one, the Dubai World Cup. Both horses will be ridden by Gary Stevens, who Romans describes as "one of the greatest of all time".
"The two horses have handled it very well," said Fox. "There will be no complaints, no excuses from us if they don't win."
After witnessing gradual improvement in the horses since arriving in Dubai, Romans is quietly confident of success tonight.
Of Little Mike, he said: "He deserves more respect than he's gotten. He's the little horse that could. Last year all we heard was what he couldn't do but he kept proving everybody wrong. I think people are starting to realise this is a special horse."
He was equally bullish in his assessment of Dullahan.
"I think I have a horse that's on the up, a horse that's proven to like synthetic surface and I think that will help us," he said of the four year old. "He has changed a lot, mentally. He's gone from boy to a man in the last six months."
Romans and Fox agree that bringing the horses to Dubai early, not to mention the excellent facilities and conditions, have helped them settle since Super Saturday three weeks ago.
"The walk to the track in the morning is great; it's a mile and a half and is good for the horses," Fox says of Meydan's training facilities. "In the US, the distance from the barn to the track is only 50 yards and then we're on their back for only 15 minutes. Here, even for me, just walking around and looking at those big buildings, it's amazing."
And if the horses are increasingly at home, then so it would seem is Fox. When not at the track, she has found the time to visit Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, a few of Dubai's malls and even gone shopping in Satwa, where she is getting a jumpsuit tailored. Riding, not surprisingly, is never far away.
"One day, we went to a camel market, and we rode some of the camels," she said of a day spent with an Emirati host. "We had lunch at his house, and I got to wear the burqa, too. That was great."
Today, the serious business of their trip is finally here: Dullahan and Little Mike primed for success. "I've given Dale two thumbs up," Fox says of the two horses.
A repeat of that glorious day in 2005 might be on the cards.
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