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Field of thirteen vie for Blue Grass honors
Hansen is the top draw among a field of 13 entered in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, but the popular near-white colt faces strong competition as many in the field have something to prove.
Hansen drew post 4 and enters the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack contest off a nice three-length victory in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. It will be the first time this season that the champion colt will try a Grade 1, with his last attempt resulting in a Eclipse Award-winning performance in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The gray son of Tapit should have no problems with Keeneland's synthetic surface, as he broke his maiden and captured the Kentucky Cup Juvenile over Turfway Park's Polytrack by a combined 25 1/2 lengths. Following his Breeders' Cup victory, trainer Mike Maker gave his charge about three months off before saddling him to a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Aqueduct.
That was Hansen's first career loss, but the three-year-old rebounded in a big way last out and could enter the Kentucky Derby on a winning note following this one under Ramon Dominguez.
Perhaps the one with the most to prove against Hansen is Hero of Order, trained by his Russian-born owner Gennadi Dorochenko. The pair were suddenly thrust into the spotlight just two weeks ago when Hero of Order upset the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby as the 109-1 longest shot in the field of 13. The dark bay colt had run decently enough in his prior starts, including a fourth in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes in late February, but nobody gave the Sharp Humor colt any chance heading into the Louisiana Derby.
Hero of Order denied 3-2 favorite Mark Valeski in that nine-furlong affair, and could use his experience at the distance to post another shocking win. Eddie Martin Jr. was aboard the colt for the first time in the Louisiana Derby and retains the mount Saturday.
A number in the Blue Grass field need at least second -- if not an out-and-out win -- if they hope to make the Kentucky Derby field in three weeks. Among those is Holy Candy, who just broke his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths going a mile at Santa Anita on March 23. The John Sadler-trained son of Candy Ride successfully teamed up with Joel Rosario for the first time in that score, and keeps the rider aboard for the Blue Grass.
Howe Great is another who needs a good placing to get in the Kentucky Derby. Trained by Graham Motion, who saddled Animal Kingdom to Derby victory last year, the dark bay sophomore is riding a four-race win streak that started when he broke his maiden at Parx Racing last October. In his two starts this season the Hat Trick colt has captured the listed Kitten's Joy Stakes and Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes, both on turf, to rack up $90,000 in graded earnings.
Ever So Lucky, Heavy Breathing and Scatman are all also on the outside looking into the Derby. Ever So Lucky has prior experience at Churchill, breaking his maiden and running second in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last year, but could do no better than third in the Grade 3 Swale Stakes in his first start back in March. Heavy Breathing brought a two-for-two record into the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes last month, but saw his unbeaten line snapped when third in that contest. Scatman was also third last out, this time in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, and just missed by a half-length when passed late in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. All three could factor in the Blue Grass.
Prospective and Dullahan are both well established in the Derby field in regards to earnings, but a bit of padding would not be a bad thing with both this race and the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby being run Saturday. Prospective captured the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby last out and should not have a problem with the Polytrack after beginning his career, including a win in the Grade 3 Gray Stakes, on Woodbine's version last year. Regular rider Luis Contreras has the call aboard the Malibu Moon colt.
Dullahan is returning to the site of his Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity victory last fall, and followed that up with a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to close out his two-year-old campaign. The Even the Score chestnut colt has just one start this year, finishing second to Howe Great in the grassy Palm Beach, and could rebound while returning to the main track.
Politicallycorrect and Midnight Crooner have a tough task ahead as they are making their graded debuts in the Blue Grass. Of the two, Midnight Crooner has the better shot as he ran third in the Pasadena Stakes on Santa Anita's turf in late March. Prior to that, the War Chant colt broke his maiden by 7 1/2 lengths over the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields. Politicallycorrect, on the other hand, sandwiched a well-beaten seventh in the Gulfstream Park Derby between a pair of wins. The Kitten's Joy gelding was second in a maiden at Keeneland last October though.
That leaves Gung Ho and Russian Greek to complete the Blue Grass field. The latter runner was transferred from Jerry Hollendorfer, for whom he won the California Derby and Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields, to Dorochenko. He wasn't able to challenge against graded rivals in his last two and looks up against it here while getting the blinkers taken off. Gung Ho was no match in the Breeders' Futurity but did make his seasonal bow a half-length second in the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park. Regardless of that effort, the Maker pupil probably won't be able to challenge these.