Newly-crowned champion Hansen lost his perfect record in his first start as a three-year-old in Sunday's Grade 3, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, as Starlight Racing's Algorithms blew by him and went on to romp by five lengths on the sloppy, sealed track. Hansen, who got off to a bad start before rushing to the lead, just managed to save second from the late-running My Adonis.
Algorithms, now a perfect three-for-three, capped a terrific day for trainer Todd Pletcher. Earlier, his promising sophomore El Padrino captured a stakes-quality optional/claimer, and his three-year-old filly Broadway's Alibi humbled her rivals in the Grade 2 Forward Gal. Javier Castellano guided both Kentucky Derby prospects, El Padrino and Algorithms.
"This race was going to tell us where we were with him, running against the two-year-old champion," Pletcher said. "Now he's done everything we've asked him to."
Pedigree pundits might have noted that Algorithms had a bit of family history going for him. He is a half-brother to four stakes winners, including Keyed Entry, who prevailed in the Grade 2 Hutcheson in 2006 in similar conditions for Starlight Stable and partners. That day, he upset multiple Grade 1 winner First Samurai, one of the previous year's top juveniles, also in the Gulfstream slop.
Like Keyed Entry, Algorithms was unbeaten going into his stakes debut, and stole the spotlight from a more accomplished rival. Most recently successful in an allowance/optional claimer at Gulfstream, the Bernardini colt was dispatched as the 5-2 second choice.
Hansen, who was last seen clinching the Eclipse Award with a hard-fought victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was the 4-5 favorite. But the champion's first step on the Derby trail literally went amiss.
Hansen stumbled right out of the gate, lurched left when trying to regain his balance, and appeared to crowd into My Adonis. Quickly righting himself, Hansen turned on his trademark speed and sprinted to the fore. The gray was three lengths clear through an opening quarter in :23 3/5, and he widened his margin to 4 1/2 lengths when reaching the half-mile mark in :45 3/5.
Meanwhile, Algorithms was cruising in tandem with Silver Max, and was arguably traveling better than Hansen rounding the far turn. Hansen's lead gradually diminished through six furlongs in 1:10 1/5, and he came under pressure from Ramon Dominguez entering the stretch.
Algorithms, in contrast, was just beginning to hit his stride. Overwhelming Hansen in a few strides, Algorithms put the race away and skipped clear in a final time of 1:36 for the one-turn mile. The resounding winner paid $7, $2.80 and $2.40.
"I wanted to take my time and not rush my horse," Castellano said. "Hansen has a lot of speed and he's the two-year-old champion, so I was just really patient and waited for the right time to move. He felt absolutely amazing today. He broke so sharp and wanted to go to the lead, but I just took my time."
Hansen held the runner-up spot by a half-length from My Adonis, who ran a big race in third. After his bumpy start, My Adonis had lagged as far as 20 lengths back at one point, but motored out wide down the stretch. Fort Loudon, Silver Max, and a lackluster Consortium completed the order of finish.
Hansen's connections believed that he was too eager early in his reappearance.
"He has a lot of speed," Dominguez said, "and he might have been a little bit fresh today too, which is why we went a little faster than I was looking for.
"He stumbled coming out of the gate and he picked himself up pretty quickly, but sometimes that scares a horse a little bit, and they go a little fast. The stumble probably didn't help, but it's not an excuse.
"I'm not happy that he didn't win, but I'm not totally disappointed. When he got passed, he really dug in and he galloped out really well."
Trainer Michael Maker echoed Dominguez's comments.
"Ramon said pretty much after he stumbled he popped up and jumped right into the bit and was a little headstrong and fresh," Maker said, "but other than that it was a good effort and he galloped out strong. We're pleased."
Algorithms was making his first start at a mile in the Holy Bull. The bay debuted in a five-furlong maiden on June 3 at Belmont Park, where he blitzed to a 5 1/4-length victory. He did not reappear until the aforementioned allowance/optional claimer here on December 16, capturing that 6 1/2-furlong affair by a length from Consortium. Algorithms now has a total of $301,500 in the bank.
Bred by Oakbrook Farm in Kentucky, Algorithms was purchased for $170,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. He is out of Grade 3-placed Ava Knowsthecode, a daughter of Cryptoclearance. Aside from Keyed Entry and Algorithms, she has also produced Justin Phillip, winner of last year's Grade 2 Woody Stephens; Successful Mission, victor of last year's Grade 3 Miami Mile; and stakes scorer Alex's Allure.
Unlike Keyed Entry, who was sired by sprinter-miler Honour and Glory and had distance limitations, Algorithms has better classic credentials.
"I don't think two turns will be a problem for him," Castellano said. "I rode his father Bernardini to win the Preakness and other big races, and hopefully this horse can be like that. He's certainly in the right hands with Todd Pletcher."
"It's too early to say what we might do with him at this point," Pletcher said regarding plans. "You can never have enough good three-year-olds, but you hate to run them against each other.
"Now we have Discreet Dancer and this colt that are two-for-two over the track. He's (Algorithms) by Bernardini and I don't think he'll have distance limitations. So we just have to sort things out from here."