It wasn’t that long ago the Dale Romans barn was in a state of mourning. His top two-year old and Triple Crown hopeful fell victim to injury and the 2017 Kentucky Derby dreams of the Louisville native were in serious jeopardy. The name of that talented colt was ringing true as Not This Time was retired before he really got started. But alas, the same sport giveth as it taketh away.

As one of the top conditioners in the game, Romans is always developing new talent. But let’s face it, real Kentucky Derby contenders can be extremely hard to come by. Of the thousands of Thoroughbreds born each year, only 20 of them will make it to the starting gates in three years. You do the math. So, when the prized Not This Time was taken out of training, fans of Romans racing were no doubt disappointed. Being the true horseman he is, Romans has found another talent that more than fits the bill as Derby contender.

J Boys Echo put on a dazzling display in the grade 3 Gotham Stakes on March 4 and ran his way into the starting gates for Derby 143. Owned by the Albaugh Family Stable (same owners as Not This Time), this son of Mineshaft picked up his first graded stakes win with a huge stretch run after stalking a hot pace. Flexing his muscles under jockey Robby Albarado, J Boy made My Old Kentucky Home Echo through the ears of the Romans barn.

“He is a strong horse that does all the right things,” says Romans. “He came out of the race great and I am very proud of his performance.”

Picking up his second career win in his fifth career start, J Boys Echo has made progress of late. A playful nature and a good spirit have made him a pleasure to be around, it just may have not contributed to improvement as a race horse. Using his resources and the patience of a great trainer, Romans has made his charge into a real contender.

“He really is an extremely smart horse,” says Romans. “Sometimes those intelligent horses can be a bit more playful and are not always eager to run into a burning building. Once you teach them what its all about they are more than willing to throw themselves into the mix.”

J Boys Echo has continued to train smartly with eyes perhaps on the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland as his final prep before the first Saturday in May. Romans lead Brody’s Cause to the winner’s circle at Keeneland a year ago and also won the race in 2012 with Dullahan. There is no doubt he understands what it takes to win this steppingstone to immortality. The race is viewed as important in the development of these maturing horses. With enough qualifying points to make the starting gates at Churchill already, the veteran conditioner just wants to see his great grandson of Seattle Slew peaking in the Run for the Roses. If he goes to Lexington, the Bluegrass on April 8 should be a stern test as top-rated contender McCraken and Juvenile champ Classic Empire are likely entrants as well.

“The Bluegrass could come up just as tough as the Kentucky Derby,” says Romans. “We like where J Boy is right now and obviously the Bluegrass has been a good spot for us in the past. We just want to keep him healthy and get him to Churchill in good shape.”