Dr. Kendall Hansen and Sky Chai Racing's Hansen dominated his initial two starts on the synthetic Polytrack at Turfway Park, and successfully transferred that form to the fast main track at Churchill Downs on Saturday when wiring the $1,818,000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The Mike Maker pupil withstood the game run of even-money favorite Union Rags in the 1 1/16-mile test, just keeping his head in front on the wire with Ramon Dominguez aboard.
"We pointed to the Breeders' Cup before he ever ran," Maker said. "I only told that to the owners, and they're as crazy as I am.
"He's a natural. Obviously his performance speaks for itself," the horseman asserted. "That's the way he wants to run and we weren't going to change a thing. It's just that natural ability. Obviously he's got a lot of speed and he's always shown it. He's also got a lot of fight; a bunch of good characteristics.
Hansen went straight to the front when the gates opened, setting splits of :23 1/5, :47 1/5, 1:12 1/5 and 1:37 3/5. Union Rags was biding his time in midpack before going after the longtime leader while circling wide rounding the turn. Union Rags continued down the center of the track and ducked slightly to the outside while Hansen kept to his inside position. The eventual winner just held his rival on the wire while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 2/5.
"He ran superb for me," Dominguez said. "Going into the first turn, he was a little aggressive. That made me a little concerned. When we got to the backside, he switched to his right (lead) and he came back to me and relaxed beautiful. I got pressed pretty early, around the three-eighths pole, but he continued coming for me. He's special."
Hansen came into the Juvenile already owning a start at the distance, taking the 8 1/2-furlong Kentucky Cup Juvenile by 13 1/5 lengths. Prior to that the gray streak also led all the way home while romping by 12 1/4 lengths in his maiden debut. He went off favored in both of those races, but could only draw support as the 7-1 third choice here to pay $16.20, $6.60 and $4.60.
Union Rags was game in defeat while trying 1 1/16 miles for the first time. The bay colt was made the even-money favorite in this spot off his easy wins in the Grade 1 Champagne Stake and Grade 2 Saratoga Special. Following the top two under the line by a length was Creative Cause, who stalked in third behind the early pace and came running to be five lengths clear of Dullahan on the wire.
"They were wide on the first turn; they were wide on the second turn," trainer Michael Matz said of Union Rags' run. "He (jockey Javier Castellano) said the other horse had it his own way, and he (Union Rags) galloped out good and strong. He said, 'one more jump and we would have had him.'
"I didn't get a good draw. I guess that's racing. What are you going to do? It's one of those things. I wish I had an answer for you. It's disappointing, that's for sure, but I guess that's horseracing."
"One jump after the wire, I was in front," Castellano lamented. "But that's horse racing. I'm disappointed in the result, but I'm not disappointed in my horse. He ran a wonderful race; tried hard all the way. I give the winner a lot of credit. He ran fast early, and he held on. You have to give him credit."
Completing the order of finish were Take Charge Indy, Crusade, Fort Loudon, Optimizer, Speightscity, Drill, Alpha, Daddy Long Legs and Prospective.
Hansen is now three-for-three in his career and saw his earnings shoot to $1,153,305 with the winner's share from the Juvenile. Bred in Kentucky by his namesake and co-owner, the gray juvenile is out of the winning Sir Cat mare Stormy Sunday and has a yearling half-brother by Corinthian.
"Mike didn't tell me how good he was until the (Kentucky Cup Juvenile)," Dr. Kendall Hansen said. "The words he used, I had to look in the dictionary to see what these words were. I was thinking about naming the horse after these words, exceptional and on and on and on. He's a man of few words.
"I was shocked, and then I find out no horse has ever been in front of him in a workout, and he's just been playing up until today. Just two races, they didn't really ask him for all he's got. It was nice to see him have to dig down today and work for a change because he's been playing until now."
Maker indicated Hansen could end up in Florida this winter en route to a 2012 Triple Crown campaign.