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Jan 19, 2012

2012 Kentucky Derby Countdown

By: By Jeff Frank, Sports Analyst


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Hansen and Union Rags ran their hearts out last November in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with the former defeating the latter by a diminishing head. Hansen comes into 2012 undefeated in three starts while Union Rags has three wins in four tries.

Will either colt be able to bring home the roses on the first Saturday in May? If recent history is a guide, the answer is a resounding no. The last horse that finished first or second in the "Two-Year-Old of the Year" voting to make any noise in the Kentucky Derby was five years ago when Street Sense prevailed under Calvin Borel.

Hansen, who will make his three-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in less than two weeks, did nothing wrong as a two-year-old. However, his running style (on the lead) and pedigree (both top and bottom) will prevent him from being a major player on May 5th.

Union Rags has a much more reasonable chance of crossing the finish line first at Churchill Downs, but in order to do so, he must correct his tendency to drift out through the stretch, something that has troubled him in two of four career races. In fact, had he run a straight course down the long Churchill stretch in the Juvenile, he would have defeated Hansen and remained unbeaten heading into 2012.

The son of Dixie Union will have just two starts before the Kentucky Derby beginning with the Fountain of Youth Stakes in late February, followed by the Florida Derby five weeks before the first Saturday in May.

One colt that should not be overlooked is Creative Cause. The third-place finisher (beaten only a length) in the BC Juvenile has lost only twice in five lifetime attempts. Nevertheless, there are question marks about his ability to get the 1 1/4-mile distance and the February 19th San Vicente Stakes at seven- furlongs will not provide any legitimate answers.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has his usual highly-rated bunch of three-year-olds aimed for Kentucky with Discreet Dancer, Gemologist and Algorithms leading the way.

Discreet Dancer is undefeated in two starts, including a track record performance in his debut. After winning that race by 9 3/4-lengths, the son of Discreet Cat overpowered an entry-level allowance field by 5 1/2-lengths, while running the mile in a solid 1:36 1/5.

His capacity to handle nine or even 10 furlongs remains an issue since his sire (Discreet Cat) was a miler and his dam's only other foal (Travelin Man) was a sprinter. Pletcher doesn't know when Discreet Dancer will run next but it's obvious a stakes appearance is in order.

Gemologist, as is the case with Union Rags, will make just two starts prior to the Derby. The WinStar Farm colt concluded his two-year-old campaign with an impressive victory over favored Ever So Lucky in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Gemologist has won two of his three races around two turns and since he is sired by Tiznow (whose progeny usually improve as they get older), look for him to be a major player on the road to Kentucky.

Algorithms has started just twice in his young career but both times the son of Bernardini proved best. He rolled by over five lengths in his debut last summer at Belmont Park and then hit the winner's circle once again at Gulfstream Park on December 16th defeating the highly-rated Consortium by a length. He is a little bit behind the early contenders since he has yet to race further than 6 1/2-furlongs. However, the bay colt will meet up with Hansen in the one-mile Holy Bull Stakes later this month to prove he belongs.

OTHER POSSIBLE CHALLENGERS

Creative Cause is not the only star in California as Liaison, Out of Bounds, and Sky Kingdom could all become Kentucky Derby starters if they remain healthy.

Liaison has won back-to-back, two-turn, stakes events but questions will always come up about the 1 1/4-mile distance since Indian Charlie is his sire. Remember all the talk last spring about Uncle Mo (also sired by Indian Charlie) and how he failed miserably as the distances increased.

Out of Bounds was never involved in his initial race last October, but the Eoin Harty-trained colt has rebounded with a pair of victories, including the one-mile Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.

Sent off as the surprising 10-1 fourth choice, Out of Bounds collared the 1-2 favorite Secret Circle in the stretch to win by a half-length while completing the mile in 1:34 2/5 seconds. His next start will be the San Felipe Stakes on March 10th, followed by the Santa Anita Derby in early April.

Out of Bounds should be capable of winning at nine furlongs as his half- brother Etched and dam Unbridled Elaine had done so on multiple occasions. The big test will come in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.

The 10-furlong distance will not be a problem for Sky Kingdom, who has won two of three races around two turns. The son of Empire Maker recently scored the easiest of victories in his first start on dirt as he mowed down Smart Ellis by 4 1/2-lengths, a number that could have been closer to 10 if jockey Martin Garcia had asked him for more through the stretch.

Previously, Sky Kingdom had run fourth in the Cash Call Futurity, a very good effort considering he was bumped at the start, which caused him to race further off the pace than usual.

As previously mentioned, Sky Kingdom is one of the few Kentucky Derby contenders bred for the 1 1/4-mile distance. His dam, Sky Beam, is a full- sister to 2008 Travers Stakes runner-up Mambo in Seattle, and his second dam, Weekend in Seattle, is a full-sister to 1992 Horse of the Year, A.P. Indy.

Other three-year-olds to watch in the coming month are Alpha, Sabercat, Rousing Sermon, Ever So Lucky, Brother Francis, I'll Have Another, Casual Trick, Fed Biz, Blingo, and Consulado.

JEFF FRANK'S INITIAL 2012 "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Sky Kingdom; 2) Union Rags; 3) Algorithms; 4) Gemologist; 5) Discreet Dancer; 6) Hansen; 7) Alpha; 8) Out of Bounds; 9) Liaison; 10) Creative Cause; 11) Consortium; 12) Sabercat



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