Something to Prove in the Gotham?

Hansen Returns for the Gotham Stakes

History is never the reason a sports endeavor fails but when a trend starts the thought of it happening again begins to stir. The notification of such a run cannot be too exciting but at least in horse racing a thoroughbred never hears a word. This is also the reason that these trends don’t always last so long either. In my estimation this minor reoccurrence doesn’t have strong legs in 2012 and can very well go the other direction.

But for now the question looming for Hansen and his connections is: Will he be the fifth consecutive Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Champion to miss the Kentucky Derby?

You have to go back to the infamous Street Sense in 2007 to find a horse that ran in both but of course what makes him so special is that he didn’t race in both, he won the pair. In between we have four horses that did not go on to race in the Kentucky Derby after scoring the prize of the 2-yr-old season. The reason varies between temporary injuries at an importune moment and a European horse that won on Synthetics but was never considered a Kentucky Derby contender. So with all of these instances should we think that Hansen will follow suit? Absolutely Not.

Since we still consider a Hansen a Kentucky Derby Contender then what will he need to do in the G3 Gotham this weekend to keep him on the list of likely Kentucky Derby Winners. For some he has to win while for others like me all he needs to do is continue to progress convincingly after his first ever defeat.

Shipping out of South Florida and arriving at Aqueduct earlier in the week Hansen has all of the early attention because he out classes that rest of the field so far in his career. Trainer Mike Maker will remove the blinkers from his beautiful grey / roan colt for the very time as he returns to a racing distance that has served him very well in the past. Both races at 1 1/16 Mile were big wins in 2011 and will hopefully get him back on par after he proved to be no match for Algorithms in the 1 Mile Holy Bull at Gulfstream.

I saw the Holy Bull as a race where a young and very talented horse was too excited to get back to racing and ultimately undid himself because of it. How ready was he to get back at it? Does an opening quarter of 45.67 after stumbling from the gate tell you anything? Ramon Dominguez is a very clever veteran rider but not even he could stop the freight train from rolling in the Holy Bull. The quick fractions out front gave Algorithms everything he needed to seize the opportunity and put Hansen away but the rest of the field could not. And that’s the one thing that may be overlooked – 2nd place on a day you didn’t come close to your best…..not bad.

The beautiful part about the Kentucky Derby trail is the approach towards May with only one thing in mind: Peaking. At still such a young age in what may become a long and successful racing career, 3-yr-olds can act their age at times and race extremely out of character. But in a case like Hansen, graded stakes earnings are not an issue and qualification for the Kentucky Derby is almost already in hand. I point this out because in my opinion, not winning the Gotham is not going to affect his derby chances as long as he races clean, stays more relaxed and returns in good order.

An example of not winning but winning can be found in 2 of the last 3 years. Outside of Animal Kingdom’s path to Kentucky Derby glory (2nd Allowance, 1st Spiral Stakes) the other two winners are prime examples of horses that were waiting for the big one before they showed their stuff. After racing 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Mine That Bird shipped back to New Mexico where he finished 2nd and 4th in the Borderland and Sunland before finding it in Kentucky. The following year it was Super Saver that finished 3rd in the Tampa Bay Derby and 2nd in the Arkansas Derby before staying in stride and finishing 1st in the Kentucky Derby.

The only reason these examples are worth mentioning here is because while Hansen will be the overwhelming favorite in the Gotham and should win, I’m still willing to give him a hall pass if he races gamely but comes up just short. The only difference is that if he does make the starting gate in the 138th Kentucky Derby he will have most likely raced 3 times as 3-yr-old before making his run for the roses.

Nothing has been confirmed nor do we know where he’ll run next but all signs point to the Gotham being another race prior to his final prep. So what will the Gotham be for Hansen? Maybe a win, another disappointing 2nd or further back? Probably not but more importantly this prep race could turn out to be just another step en route to a bid in the 138th Kentucky Derby.

Written by: Little Brink

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