Front Running Hansen Caught From Behind
The major Kentucky Derby preps are in the books and so are the questions surrounding the next race. A main inquiry will be if anyone is willing to replace Hansen with Dullahan on their list of top contenders for the 138th Kentucky Derby. If you take Trainer Dale Romans comments into consideration after the score in the G1 $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes then Dullahan’s stock is most certainly rising. The Louisville native is confident as ever with what he has in his barn and he’s not shying away from the fact that he thinks this horse is better than any of his others. “This is the best chance by far that I’ve had,” he said, “and I think he’s the right horse.”
The key word in that comment by Dale Romans is “by far”. There’s something to be said about a trainer who is very blunt when commenting on how good he thinks his horse really is. To put him ahead of Shackleford, 2011 Preakness Stakes winner, by so much definitely gets my attention. I give Dale Romans a lot of credit for his confidence with Dullahan and I give him a lot more credit for a spectacular win in the Blue Grass Stakes, his first ever in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Prep. (Replay)
Not sure if Dale or Jockey Kent Desormeaux expected the pace to be as fast it turned out through the opening 3 quarters. By that time Dullahan was still well off the pace in 9th and about 10 lengths back. That can be a trouble situation if you’re not ready to respond but hall of fame rider and 3 time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux was. After a lively maneuver off the rail through the holes that were there, the unforgettable charge for home was on. At the top of the stretch he began making huge strides 4 wide before claiming 3rd place at the eighth pole. With Hansen out front it looked like he was ready to draw off and too tough to catch but that was until Kent Desormeaux switched leads. The move asked Dullahan to change gears and when he did it was over.
On the plus side, Dullahan’s superior acceleration down the stretch is what everyone will be talking about going in to the Kentucky Derby. Not only did he make it look seamless he also displayed his ability to carry it even further than the 1 1/8 Blue Grass Stakes distance. The most outstanding stat in this text-book win was the final time of 1:47.94, the fastest ever recorded since Keeneland moved the main racing surface to Polytrack in 2006. Including the years prior when raced on dirt, Dullahan’s time still ranks as the 3rd fastest Blue Grass Stakes in the last 25 years.
On the questionable side, Dullahan’s dirt racing is what everyone will be thinking about. The Kentucky Derby will be only his 2nd career Graded Stakes race on dirt. His first was a 4th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Blue Grass Stakes win makes him 2 for 2 at Keeneland – Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity last fall. That race was the final prep before the BC Juvenile so Dullahan is in the exact same position, racing on Keeneland Poly before moving to the dirt at Churchill Downs. Will this time be different……let the debate begin.
Back out front again. That’s the main story we’re going to focus on with the Morning Line favorite Hansen. While it was interesting to see Dr. Hansen’s attempt to race Hansen with a Blue Tail get shot down by the stewards it’s not worth elaborating. What’s more interesting is to see what the Blue Grass Stakes says about his Kentucky Derby chances.
Prior to the Blue Grass Hansen scored from off the pace for the very first time. Even though he wired some big races the concern for the Kentucky Derby is that the pace is going to be too hot for that technique to last all the way through the stretch. When Ramon Dominguez and Hansen were able to score from off the lead in the Gotham it was a big bump in his maturity and status on the Kentucky Derby trail. After the Blue Grass Stakes, however, there are a lot of questions to ask.
Too fast – 23.54, 46.64 and 1:11.32. Hansen broke sharply from the gate and was ready to run. Jockey Ramon Dominguez has been aboard since leading him to the win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but his familiarity with the colt wasn’t enough to slow him down. At that rate he was going there’s no doubt that Dominguez did everything he could to settle him down but unfortunately the swift start is what burned him in the stretch.
The connections for Hansen all agreed that when they saw him post an opening quarter of almost 23 flat that he was moving too fast. Saturday proved that it will be tough to win the Kentucky Derby racing at this speed. The main reason is because the Kentucky Derby isn’t a race that sets up very well for wire to wire wins. It’s been done before but it’s not a strategy that most trainers will instruct their jockeys to stick to because a hot pace in the front sets up beautifully for a ground saving ride and a horse that is waiting to close hard through the final quarter-mile.
On the other side of the coin there is one argument to make for Hansen. In his 3-yr-old debut Hansen also finished 2nd after getting caught in stretch. In attempt to wire the field for the 4th consecutive time, Hansen got out quick in the G3 Holy Bull – 23.64, 45.67, 1:10.21. Even though that race was only at the distance of 1 Mile those fractions could still be considered too quick. The end result that day was that they were as Algorithms closed after stalking close and drew away to win by 5. After that race Hansen was facing almost the same questions that he is right now but next time is when he answered them convincingly.
The Gotham is where Hansen showed his best stuff. He’s a completely different horse when he allows himself to settle. So what we will have to consider is if the Blue Grass Stakes was just a race that simmered a very eager horse. All young colts are bound to make a huge step in the growing up stages of their career. Even the wild youngsters with more energy than they know what to do with eventually learn to use it to their advantage. While Hansen may have taken a step back on a lot of derby contender lists, some may view this prep as the race he needed before the big one. Another advantage he still has in his pocket is that in his only race at Churchill Downs he liked the dirt and stole the show.
Prospective is still going to be considered a derby contender but I’m not sure what to make of his 6th place finish. In fact I don’t recall Prospective getting much of a call in the Blue Grass Stakes after breaking towards the back and not making any gains through the race. It was his first race on Synthetics since his 2-yr-old season so maybe he will respond better back on the dirt in the Kentucky Derby.
Finally, the Blue Grass Stakes did not produce any late entries for the Kentucky Derby field. Coming into the race Dullahan and Hansen were locks with graded stakes earnings ranking them inside the top 15 and because nobody was able to get by them the door was closed for a few Kentucky Derby hopefuls. The most notable Scatman (9th) and Ever So Lucky (10th) were both close but still too far outside of the top 20. Others that were hoping to notch a win and become eligible were Howe Great (5th) and Midnight Crooner (8th). For all of these horses and their connections it was a good run and we wish you the best in your careers outside of the Kentucky Derby.
As for our Kentucky Derby entries – Dullahan, Hansen and Prospective it was an exciting final step on the trail and we look forward to seeing you next at Churchill Downs.
Written by: Little Brink