The Gr. I, $750,000 Toyota Bluegrass Stakes will be run at the Keeneland race track in Lexington, KY this Saturday, and 2011 two-year-old colt champion Hansen is the early favorite.
Hansen will be in a field of 12 very capable opponents on his last Kentucky Derby prep race, which should provide us with a better grasp on whether he is a Derby favorite of not.
Through his performances, Hansen, a son of Tapit out of the Sir Cat mare Stormy Sunday, has proven to be head and shoulders above the rest of his opponents here. Yet he still lacks the due respect of a Breeders Cup Juvenile champ and early Derby favorite.
Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez will once again be aboard the morning line 6/5 favorite. He comes from winning convincingly the Gr. III Gotham Stakes, where he showed, for the first time, that he can rate off the pace.
This could prove a very helpful trait for his Triple Crown aspirations.
He will have a slew of contenders that mainly are looking to secure enough graded earning to guarantee a spot on the Kentucky Derby gate on May 5th. But they wouldn't mind taking the winner's take of the $750,000 purse.
Hansen's main opposition may come from Howe Great, Dullahan and Prospective.
The H. Graham Motion-trained Howe Great comes from a good-looking win at the Palm Bach Stakes over the turf at Gulfstream Park on Mar. 12. He tracked the pace setter, Scorcher, and held off a strong stretch bid from Dullahan to win by a length.
That race was at the same nine furlong distance they will be running in this race, so that gives both colts a proven experience at the distance.
For Dullahan, it was his first race since finishing fourth in the Breeders Cup Juvenile behind Hansen, Union Rags and Creative Cause. He was slowly gaining on Howe Great and should be fitter for this race.
Prospective is an improving colt who finished a well-beaten 13th to Hansen in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year. But this year he has won two out of three races, gradually improving his Beyer figures.
On his last race, he wore the blinker-on for the first time and had his best Beyer yet (90) on his win on the Gr. III Tampa Bay Derby on Mar. 10.
Some other contenders who might be less favored than the above-mentioned horses would be Ever So Lucky, Heavy Breathing, Hero of Order and Scatman.
Ever So Lucky was highly regarded as a two-year-old who made his 2012 debut at the Gr. III Swale on Mar 10. He comes in with distance questions but is definitely in better shape for this one.
Heavy Breathing was the Spiral Stakes favorite and finished a disappointing third place after weakening down the stretch. Leading jockey Javier Castellano rode him on the Spiral and chose to ride Howe Great on the race.
Hero of Order comes from providing an upset of epic proportions on his last race when he held off the stretch challenge from favorite Mark Valeski to win the Louisiana Derby. He is a just 12/1 in the morning line so far; that makes him look like almost a favorite considering his odds last time.
Scatman comes from finishing two strong second places to Secret Circle in the first two derby preps at Oaklawn Park, the Gr. III Southwest and the Gr. II Rebel.
He finished second in both races, but in a different form in each one. He was a reluctant and contending second on the Southwest, but a tiring one on the Rebel, which brings distance questions with him.
There will be a lot of speed on this race, so strategy will be key and the ability for a horse to rate or come from off the pace seems to be at a premium here.
The Bluegrass Stakes has failed to produce many Kentucky Derby contenders lately. The past two horse to place in the Derby have been Peace Rules (third in 2003) and Menifee (second in 1999).
This year, Hansen will look to erase all that history and write some of his own on the first Saturday of May.
The Toyota Bluegrass Stakes will be the part of the two-stakes coverage by CNBC that starts at 6:00 p.m. ET that will also feature the $1 million Gr. I Arkansas Derby. The Bluegrass Stakes will be the first race to be broadcast.
The scheduled post time for the race is at 6:18 p.m. ET.
Bluegrass Stakes | Grade I | Purse: $750,000 | Distance: 9 Furlongs | Post Time: 6:18 p.m. ET
|1||Heavy Breathing ||Corey J. Lanerie ||Todd A. Pletcher ||12/1
|2||Gung Ho ||Edgar S. Prado ||Michael J. Maker ||30/1
|3 ||Prospective ||Luis Contreras ||Mark Casse ||10/1
|4 ||Hansen ||Ramon A. Dominguez ||Michael J. Maker ||6/5
|5 ||Russian Greek ||Miguel Mena ||Gennadi Dorochenko ||50//1
|6 ||Dullahan ||Kent J. Desormeaux ||Dale Romans ||30/1
|7 ||Politicallycorrect ||Elvis Trujillo ||Wesley A. Ward ||15/1
|8||Midnight Crooner ||Garrett K. Gomez ||Bob Baffert ||15/1
|9||Holy Candy||Joel Rosario||John W. Sadler||30/1|
|10||Howe Great||Javier J. Castellano||H. Graham Motion||6/1|
|11||Ever So Lucky||Julien Leparoux||Jonathan E. Sheppard||12/1|
|12||Hero Of Order||Eddie M. Martin Jr||Gennadi Dorochenko||12/1|
|13||Scatman||Shaun X. Bridgmohan||Micahel E. Lauer||12/1|