Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Derby Trail Victory A Long Time Coming For ‘Promises’ Owner

Robert J. Baron named Promises Fulfilled for three things: 44 years of marriage to his childhood sweetheart, his four grown children now raising their own families, and a promise trainer Dale Romans gave him nearly 20 years ago.

“Dale always told me that some day we’d have a good horse together,” Baron laughed. “When we started to think that this colt might be something special, it was my 44th wedding anniversary. My wife and I were celebrating in Saratoga, and the name just sort of struck me. It was perfect.”

The 3-year-old son of Shackleford‘s Fountain of Youth victory has firmly cemented Promises Fulfilled as a contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby. Native New Yorker Baron found himself both delighted and humbled by the experience at Gulfstream Park last Saturday.

“It’s one thing to watch all of these races on television,” he said. “It’s another thing entirely to be a part of the action.”

Thoroughbred racing has held a special place in Baron’s heart for as long as he can remember. It was more than just the majesty of the horses themselves; the racetrack often meant family time. In the summers, the New York native’s parents used to pack up the car and travel the 1 ½ hours to Saratoga to picnic near the paddock.

Through college, Baron continued to spend at least a few days at Saratoga each year, carrying on the tradition with friends. He learned a little bit about the gambling aspect of the sport, but mostly he found himself still enjoying the one-of-a-kind atmosphere of a Saratoga summer.

By the mid-90’s, when he’d built his own cell tower and commercial construction business from scratch and diversified into trucking and real estate, Baron finally decided to make his summer racing dreams a year-round reality.

A friend helped him make the connection with trainer Mike Mitchell in California, and after partnering on his first horse, Baron was ready to set out on his own. In September of 1996, Mitchell suggested dropping a claim on the gelding Testimony at Del Mar. The California-bred was in for a tag of $40,000.

Testimony finished fourth the day Baron claimed him, then went on to win three straight races, including the $125,000 California Cup Sprint Stakes.

Kessem Power was a $50,000 claim that Baron grabbed in August of 1997. Mitchell trained that horse to win a pair of Grade 2 Stakes in Southern California.

“Well, then I thought the game was easy,” said Baron. “I’ve since learned a lot more, but I had a lot of early success.”

The 1999 San Luis Obispo with Kessem Power was Baron’s last graded stakes win until Promises Fulfilled crossed the wire first in the Fountain of Youth on Saturday.

During the intervening 19 years, Baron tried a number of different angles in the Thoroughbred game. He bought a few broodmares, decided that “hard education” was a bust, and claimed a few horses in New York with trainer Bruce Levine.

Baron was introduced to Dale Romans in 1998 and extended his stable of modest claimers to the Kentucky circuit. Romans shipped a string to Saratoga for the summer meets, and it was in 2000 that Baron had his first trip to the winner’s circle at his childhood paradise.

“I remember Pat Day coming into the Saratoga paddock, tipping his hat to all the women – he was always such a gentleman,” the owner said. “Ransom Cove was dead last after leaving the starting gate, but he came flying down the middle of the stretch to get up and win. There was nothing like that feeling, standing in the winner’s circle.

“Honestly though, I’m the kind of owner who is more comfortable on the back side of the track than on the front side. I love the mornings at the racetrack, and I try to stay under the radar. I guess that will be kind of hard now!”

Since Baron started keeping horses with Romans, the two have become close friends. They know all each other’s children, and make a point of talking on the phone regularly. That relationship is one of the things that makes Promises Fulfilled’s victory so special, Baron said.

During his 20 years with Romans, Baron has made a point of buying a few yearlings at the Keeneland sale each year. In the case of Promises Fulfilled, the colt was selected by both Romans and Franklin Smith of Elloree, SC. Romans trained his sire, Shackleford, and the two horsemen agreed the slightly immature yearling had the potential to grow into something special.

“In the construction business, my job is to find the best people possible and then let them do their jobs,” Baron said. “I believe I’ve done the same thing here with Dale and Frank, but I still tag along to the sale because it’s so much fun. I’ve learned some things over the years, but I’m definitely not the pro.”

Baron’s bid of $37,000 brought the hammer down, and the colt was shipped to South Carolina for his early education. By the time Smith sent Promises Fulfilled back to Romans’ stable, the colt was ready to win his debut by four lengths. In his second start, Promises Fulfilled won by a neck, completing seven furlongs in a sharp 1:22 4/5.

His next start in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes was a disaster. After an awkward start, Promises Fulfilled spent most of the race fighting his rider and getting out, eventually fading to third. Romans later discovered the colt had popped a splint during the race.

“We knew he had an excuse for that race at Churchill,” said Baron. “So I was hopeful, if not overly confident, heading into the Fountain of Youth. Dale did a great job getting him ready, and I really liked the progression of his races. My suspicion is that he can run farther… I like my chances (for the Florida Derby), and I wouldn’t trade places with anybody.”

While Baron is enjoying the journey with Promises Fulfilled, even allowing himself to dream about the first Saturday in May, he acknowledges the best part of the experience is watching his family’s delight in rooting for the horse.

“The kids and grandkids are all so excited,” he said. “It’s a fun time for the family to watch the races together and for me to see their excitement build up to the next race… I am definitely a lucky man.”

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