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Apr 13, 2012

Time for Hansen to step up

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After fabulous performances from I'll Have Another, Creative Cause, and to a lesser extent, Gemologist and Alpha, the time is now for last year's 2-year-old champion Hansen to prove he belongs in the top half-dozen ranked 3-year-olds.

The almost white colt got back to his winning ways with an easy three-length score in last month's Gotham Stakes, but the only horse he defeated in the 13- horse field that will wind up in the Kentucky Derby is the recent Illinois Derby winner, Done Talking.

Hansen has many question marks heading into the Blue Grass Stakes. First, this is the toughest field he will have to face since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Second, he will have to prove he can rate behind the likes of Howe Great, Scatman, and possible Heavy Breathing - a much tougher task than sitting a half-length off King and Crusader in the Gotham. Finally, this will be his first try at 1 1/8 miles, while others, such as Howe Great, Dullahan, Heavy Breathing, and Hero of Order, have already been nine furlongs.

A victory is not a must for Hansen since he leads all 3-year-olds in graded earnings. However, it's important to get a lot out of the final prep race since 14 of the last 16 Derby winners had either won or finished second in their last race prior to the first Saturday in May. The only two exceptions were Giacomo and Mine That Bird and both were 50-1.

Hansen, who drew post position four, was installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite. Dullahan and Howe Great are co-second choices at 6-1, with Prospective the fourth-choice at 10-1.

A fast pace is expected, particularly since Scatman will have to bust out of the gate quickly from post 13. Howe Great, from post 10, will also try for the lead as will Heavy Breathing from the rail. Given that, it will be interesting to see what Hansen's jockey, Ramon Dominguez, does as the field swings around the clubhouse turn. Hansen should get solid positioning from post four but he might have to work very hard to maintain a close up spot down the backstretch.

Expect Dominguez to try and rate the horse behind the early speed, which will put Hansen in a position he is unaccustomed to. Furthermore, the blinkers are off for the first time, a move that could backfire on the reigning 2-year-old champion.

Hansen went off at 4-5 odds in a 13-horse field in New York so look for around even-money against better horses in his home state of Kentucky. The odds say he should win but don't be so quick to wager everything on the son of Tapit.

Remember, the last two runnings of the Blue Grass were won by turf horses - Brilliant Speed and Stately Victor - that came from off the pace, and there's one horse that fits the mold in 2012 - Dullahan.

The half-brother to Mine That Bird has raced three times on turf without a win. However, he did prevail in the Breeders' Futurity right here on Keeneland's Polytrack surface last October.

After a decent fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Dullahan made his 3-year-old debut in the 1 1/8-mile Palm Beach Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Park. He showed a different dimension in that race as he sat just four lengths off the early lead before rallying through the stretch to miss by one length to Howe Great. He had a much tougher trip than the winner as he went five wide into the stretch while Howe Great sat the rail the entire race.

Don't expect Kent Desormeaux to keep Dullahan that close to the early lead in the Blue Grass since the horse usually lags further back when he's off the turf. With an expected face pace up front, he should work out a great trip in his final Kentucky Derby prep.

As for Howe Great, this will be the first time in months that he'll be forced to work hard for the lead. In his three previous wins, he came out of posts 1, 3, and 2, and stayed on the rail throughout all three races. Breaking from post 10, it will be extremely difficult to expect the same type of trip.

Two other horses to keep in mind are Ever So Lucky and Holy Candy.

Ever So Lucky ran third behind Trinniberg in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes on March 10. It was his first appearance since finishing second behind Gemologist last year. This lightly-raced son of Indian Charlie will be overlooked in the wagering and could surprise.

Holy Candy needed four tries to break his maiden but he did finish second to Empire Way, Castaway, and Stirred Up in his three losses. California-based 3- year-olds have fared well in other parts of the country so dismiss him at your own risk.

Predicted finish: 1) Dullahan; 2) Hansen; 3) Ever So Lucky; Longshot) Holy Candy.


Even though the Arkansas Derby is run in Hot Springs, Palm Springs would be more appropriate since three of the last four runnings have been won by horses based in California.

Gayego, Papa Clem, and Line of David proved victorious between 2008 through 2010, respectively, but neither The Factor (7th at 4-5) nor Sway Away (4th at 6-1) was able to make it four-for-four a year ago.

This time around, Bob Baffert has two chances to bring the Arkansas Derby back to California as Bodemeister (9-5) and Secret Circle (5-2) are the top two morning-line choices.

Bodemeister comes into the race off a game second-place finish to Creative Cause in the San Felipe Stakes. It was the colt's third career start and first off a powerful maiden victory on Feb. 11 at Santa Anita. A win would guarantee him a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. However, a second-place finish will tie him with Mark Valeski at $260,000 in graded earnings, a total that will leave the pair on the Derby bubble.

This will be Bodemeister's first try going nine furlongs, and it didn't appear he was too fond of the 8 1/2-furlongs in the San Felipe. The colt drifted out badly inside the eighth-pole once jockey Rafael Bejarano went to the left- handed whip. He ran in a straight line the day he broke his maiden but Bejarano did not need to use the whip.

Don't forget, the stretch at Oaklawn Park is much longer than the one at Santa Anita so it will be interesting to see how Bodemeister handles himself on Saturday, especially with blinkers off.

Another possible problem is his post position. Instead of breaking from post two, as he did in the San Felipe, he will now have to start from the far outside in post 11. To that end, there's a chance he might have to travel faster than his normal 23 and 47 early splits to get the lead, which might prove to be his undoing through the stretch.

Bodemeister is beatable but are there any horses capable of pulling the upset? Three colts come to mind - Secret Circle, Stat, and Isn't He Clever.

Secret Circle is as game as they come but distance limitations will be his downfall. His Beyer number dropped from 102 in winning the Southwest Stakes to 92 when he took the Rebel. This will also be the toughest field he's faced since losing the Sham Stakes to Out of Bounds.

Todd Pletcher's Stat comes to Oaklawn Park off an impressive 6 1/4-length allowance win at Gulfstream Park. He's got the speed to contest the early lead, but as is the case with Secret Circle, he might not want any part of nine furlongs.

Isn't He Clever should not have any problems with the distance as his sire Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby and his dam, Sharp Minister, is a full- brother to multiple stakes-winner, Flag Down.

The gelding was given a poorly timed ride in the Sunland Derby and still finished second, beaten less than one length to Daddy Nose Best. He should benefit from the jockey switch to Robby Albarado and win the Arkansas Derby en route to a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Predicted finish: 1) Isn't He Clever; 2) Bodemeister; 3) Secret Circle; Longshot) Sabercat

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