MARCH 8, 2012

by James Scully

With a three-length victory in Saturday's Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, Hansen moved back to the forefront of the Kentucky Derby discussion. The champion two-year-old displayed a new dimension, settling just off the early speed before pouncing on the far turn, and finished up strongly over the inner track at Aqueduct.

A pair of Grade 2 stakes will be offered this weekend, the $300,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita and $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.


Hansen figured to show speed from post 12 -- the Tapit colt had never trailed at any point in his first four career starts -- but jockey Ramon Dominguez instead took a hold of his mount at the start, forcing the light gray colt at least six wide into first turn.

The pace was moderate, with Hansen about a length back in third after an opening quarter-mile in :23 3/5, and the 4-5 favorite advanced into second as the field made its way down the backstretch of the 1 1/16-mile event. Hansen waited patiently until midway on the final bend, accelerating clear as he entered the stretch drive, and strode home beautifully, completing his final sixteenth of a mile in a very respectable 6.84 seconds.

He earned a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating.

My Adonis, a late-running third behind the now-sidelined Algorithms and Hansen in the Grade 3 Holy Bull January 29, was easily second best, six lengths clear of third, after racing closer to the pace in the Gotham. The Pleasantly Perfect colt is making nice progress, registering a career-best 102 Speed rating Saturday, and could continue to develop into a classic-type performer for trainer Kelly Breen.

The rest of the Gotham field showed little.

Hansen suffered his lone defeat when opening his three-year-old season in the Holy Bull at a one-turn mile. After stumbling at the start, he proved uncontrollable down the backstretch at Gulfstream, whipping through a second quarter-mile in 22 seconds, and was spent by midstretch. Algorithms blew past him for a convincing win, but the front runner managed to save the place.

Trainer Mike Maker removed blinkers and changed the colt's bit for the Gotham, and Hansen dispelled the notion of a one-dimensional speedball. With little pedigree on his female side, the talented colt remains a bit suspect with regard to the 1 1/4-mile Derby distance, but Hansen looked terrific on Saturday.

The 1 1/8-mile, Grade 1 Wood Memorial is next.


Saturday's San Felipe lost a major player Tuesday when Out of Bounds, a smart winner of the Grade 3 Sham Stakes January 7, suffered an injury during a workout, forcing him off the Triple Crown trail. Another top prospect, Fed Biz, was not entered due to a minor setback, according to Bob Baffert.

The Hall of Fame trainer called an audible, subbing well-regarded maiden winner Bodemeister in place of Fed Biz, and Baffert will also send out Grade 1 CashCall Futurity winner Liaison, who is looking to rebound from a disappointing effort in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis. The well-regarded colt stumbled and dislodged his rider last time, but Liaison had already thrown in the towel by that point of the stretch run.

Bodemeister does his best running on the front end and received no favors when American Act drew to his immediate outside in post 3. The speedy gelding exits a nose second in the Grade 2 San Vicente, out-finishing odds-on favorite Creative Cause, but American Act will be trying two turns for the first time.

Creative Cause, a son of Giant's Causeway, is a candidate to move forward off his first start this year at seven furlongs. He captured his two-turn debut at Santa Anita last fall, dominating the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, and concluded his juvenile season with a good third, beaten a length, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Midnight Transfer is an intriguing contender. The Carla Gaines pupil aced his last two starts sprinting, taking the 6 1/2-furlong San Pedro Stakes most recently, and the Hard Spun colt is bred to relish the stretch out in distance.

Empire Way will be looking to mow his rivals down in the stretch. By Empire Maker, the full brother to champion three-year-old filly Royal Delta surprisingly captured his career bow at 6 1/2 furlongs last November but did not fire in his next two outings, recording unplaced finishes in the Hollywood Prevue and CashCall Futurity. He showed much more when opening this year in the Lewis, rallying strongly to finish a clear second, and the late runner should receive a perfect set-up Saturday. Possible price play as well.

The Tampa Bay Derby will bring back three of the top four finishers from the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis including Battle Hardened, who broke his maiden that afternoon by a 1 1/4-length margin. He owns room for improvement, but the chestnut colt netted only a 91 BRIS Speed rating last time.

Spring Hill Farm is the likely favorite and Take Charge Indy should receive plenty of support in the 12-horse field.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Spring Hill Farm is unbeaten in two career starts, easily scoring maiden special weight and entry-level allowance wins at Gulfstream Park, the speedy colt will be trying two turns as well as stakes company for the first time.

Take Charge Indy ran well over synthetic tracks in his first three starts, finishing second in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity and fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity, and concluded his juvenile campaign with a decent fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He opened his sophomore season with a sharp performance, finishing second to El Padrino in a Gulfstream allowance, and will give his rivals all they can handle if he carries that form forward at Tampa Bay.

The Kentucky Derby is eight weeks from this Saturday.