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Mar 09, 2012

Let's be Frank: Will the real Hansen please stand up?

By: By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


(Sports Network) - Hansen, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, has raced twice as a 3-year-old with conflicting results - a disappointing second in the Holy Bull Stakes back in January and a dominating win in this past Saturday's Gotham Stakes.

His 2012 debut in the Holy Bull was a rather forgettable performance as the 2- year-old Eclipse Award champion stumbled slightly out of the gate and rushed to the lead as if his life depended on it.

After seeing his four-length advantage cut down to just one at the quarter pole, Hansen failed to give it his all as he had done in winning all three of his 2-year-old starts. The recently injured Algorithms stormed right past him winning by five lengths. Still, Hansen's first career defeat was tempered by a bobbled break, as well as a sloppy racetrack, something the son of Tapit had yet to see in his short career.

It appeared the gray/roan colt could not change his front-end running style, which put some doubt in the minds of the public, especially since the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby gate-to-wire was War Emblem 10 years ago.

Trainer Michael Maker decided a change of scenery might help, so he sent Hansen Aqueduct for the Gotham Stakes at 1 1/16 miles over the inner dirt. With the leading New York-based 3-year-old Alpha sitting the race out, it looked like a safe spot for Hansen to get back to his winning ways.

The main challenger in the 13-horse field was My Adonis, the third-place finisher behind Algorithms and Hansen in the Holy Bull. Outside of him, there was just one other colt (Tiger Walk) that had finished in the money in a two- turn stakes race for open company.

Sans blinkers for the first time in his career, Hansen was away alertly despite breaking from post 12. He was caught very wide into the first turn, but his natural speed allowed him to move ahead of horses into the three-path as the field moved into the backstretch.

Most observers would have expected him to move right to the lead, but a funny and extraordinary thing happened after the first quarter was run in an honest 23 3/5 clip. Hansen calmly rated behind the pacesetter King and Crusader. It was the first time in five lifetime starts that he was not on the lead after the first quarter-mile.

Another furlong passed and Hansen was still sitting in the second spot. It wasn't until the three-quarters pole came up in 1:11 3/5 that he challenged King and Crusader for the lead. A few more strides and the top spot was his alone.

Hansen ducked to his inside just past the top of the stretch, but he was still two lengths in front of an oncoming My Adonis. A couple of left-handed taps from jockey Ramon Dominguez kept Hansen's mind on the task at hand and he pulled away with ease with one furlong remaining.

From there, Hansen coasted to an easy three-length score, running the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43 4/5. The final time might not sound too impressive, but he could have run faster if Dominguez had wanted him to do so.

My Adonis ran a solid second, besting the third-place finisher by six lengths.

All in all, it was perfect prep race as the 2-year-old champ got to the winner's circle for the first time in 2012. More importantly, he rated behind the lead, which he had been unable to do in his previous four starts.

The $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 7 should be Hansen's next start - a race My Adonis is expected to challenge him for a third straight time. Withers Stakes winner Alpha will either run in the Wood or stay in the Sunshine State for the Florida Derby on March 31.

If trainer Kiaran McLaughlin decides to run Alpha in Florida, it will allow him to hang on to jockey Ramon Dominguez for one more race. Dominguez, the regular rider for both Hansen and Alpha, will then have to decide which colt to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

If McLaughlin brings Alpha up to New York, then he might have to find a new jockey as Dominguez will more than likely choose Hansen, who proved his newly found detractors wrong with a smashing victory in the Gotham.

It's too early to tell if he will be able to stretch his speed to nine and 10 furlongs, but if he can rate slightly off the pace in the Wood and the Derby, he has a good chance to bring home the roses.

PLETCHER SCORES WITH ANOTHER DERBY CONTENDER

Trainer Todd Pletcher lost a couple of possible Kentucky Derby prospects last week with the injury to Algorithms and the poor performance by Discreet Dancer. However, he might have a new contender in the late developing Heavy Breathing.

The son of Giant's Causeway improved his record to 2-for-2 with an eye- catching 4 1/2-length allowance win over Big Screen on Saturday, finishing the nine-furlong event in 1:51 3/5.

Heavy Breathing, who won his debut on Feb. 8 by 7 3/4 lengths, should be in line to make his first stakes appearance in his next start.

THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Union Rags - Might not get tested in Florida Derby

2) I'll Have Another - Had a spectacular six-furlong 1:10 workout at Santa Anita on Saturday

3) Fed Biz - Gearing up for first stakes attempt this Saturday

4) El Padrino - Not much left to prove

5) Gemologist - Doesn't have to win the Rebel to maintain this position

6) Out of Bounds - Breeding doesn't suggest he'll handle 10 furlongs

7) Alpha - Not as talented as others, but is beautifully bred for 1 1/4 miles

8) Hansen - Rebounded in a big way in Gotham

9) Creative Cause - Getting back to two-turn races will help

10) Empire Way - Harrington's other top 3-year-old could surprise in San Felipe

11) Exothermic - Might be the field's best chance to win the Derby

12) Mark Valeski - Hung valiantly with El Padrino in Risen Star



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