Dullahan closed powerfully to catch Hansen in deep stretch of Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, establishing himself as a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby with an impressive 1 1/4-length victory. Owned by Donegal Racing, the Dale Romans-trained colt recorded a fast-finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last fall and counts 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird as a half-brother.
"He was very strong all the way to the wire," jockey Kent Desormeaux said after Dullahan captured the 88th edition of the Blue Grass before a record crowd of 40,617 at Keeneland.
Second when making his 2012 bow in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes on turf March 11, Dullahan got off to a slow start Saturday as 6-5 favorite Hansen seized the initiative and led the 13-horse field into the first turn. The two-year-old champion male recorded opening splits in :23 and :46 3/5 on about a one-length lead, with longshots Politicallycorrect, Hero of Order and Gung Ho in close attendance behind him, and Dullahan was racing far back in 10th as the field made its way down the backstretch.
The late runner began to make headway on the far turn, passing runners while saving ground along the inside, and Dullahan swung out to the middle of the track entering the stretch. Hansen, who reached the three-quarters mark in 1:11 1/5, spurted away from his nearest rivals as he straightened for home and looked strong while passing the eighth pole in 1:35 2/5 with a 2 1/2-length advantage, but could not last in the final furlong.
Dullahan gobbled up ground to blow past Hansen in the final jumps, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 4/5 over Polytrack, and paid $8.40 to win as the 3-1 second choice.
"He did everything that a good horse has to do to win," Romans said. "When it's time to accelerate, (jockey Kent Desormeaux) had enough horse to split through. He gets the job done. He's just a special horse."
"As soon as he straightened (turning for home), there was a hole," Desormeaux said. "He ran through that and then he said, 'Now what I do?' And I asked him to keep going. He switched leads, and he just exploded."
"I don't think the (1 1/4-mile) distance (of the Kentucky Derby) will be a problem," Romans said when asked about the colt's Derby chances. "The further the better."
Hansen easily held second, 2 1/2 lengths better than 31-1 outsider Gung Ho in third. It was another length back to the late-running Holy Candy, who was sent off at 9-1 following a maiden special weight win at Santa Anita. Howe Great came next in fifth and was followed by Prospective, Heavy Breathing, Midnight Crooner, Scatman, Ever So Lucky, Russian Greek, Politicallycorrect and Hero of Order.
“The pace was too fast. I knew in the first quarter," trainer Mike Maker said of Hansen's runner-up performance. "It was quicker than we wanted. But he was fresh today. The next one (race) is the big one."
"He ran great, great times," owner Dr. Dr. Kendall Hansen added. "He did all the work on the front end. It's all right."
Dullahan, who placed in the Grade 2 With Anticipation on turf while still a maiden, garnered his first career victory while posting a 17-1 upset in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October. The chestnut earned $450,000 Saturday, improving his overall ledger to 8-2-2-2, $872,091.
By Even the Score, Dullahan was bred in Kentucky by Phil & Judy Needham and Bena Halecky and was purchased for $250,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is out of the unraced Smart Strike mare Mining My Own, whose first foal, the Birdstone gelding Mine That Bird, was named champion two-year-old in Canada following a campaign that included stakes wins in the Grey, Swynford and Silver Deputy. Mine That Bird went on to post a 50-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby the following season and also finished second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes before retiring with more than $2.2 million in earnings.
If Dullahan wins the first leg of the Triple Crown, Mining My Own will become the first mare to produce multiple winners of the Kentucky Derby.