In the 28 times the Breeders' Cup Juvenile has been run since 1984, only one winner—Street Sense—was able to come back six months later and win the Kentucky Derby.
With the 138th Run for the Roses less than two weeks away, there are doubts if this year's reigning two-year-old champion, Hansen, can become the second.
Owned by Dr. Kendall E. Hansen, the nearly white colt (ridden by Ramon A. Dominguez) is two weeks removed from a second-place finish to Dullahan, who rolled past him to win the 88th running of the Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
Prior to the Blue Grass, Hansen won the Gotham Stakes back in March. His first start of the year came in January in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes, where he ran second.
Hansen's loss marks the 10th straight year that the favorite has been defeated in the Blue Grass. He earned a 96 Beyer speed rating for his effort.
The Kentucky thoroughbred is dogged by doubts over whether or not he can go the 1 1/4-mile distance in the Derby. The doubts are justified. Coming in on the rail, Dullahan (ridden by three time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux) mowed Hansen (who broke from post 4) down in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass, to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Dullahan is ranked sixth in the latest NTRA three-year-old poll, and is one of a handful of horses with a legitimate chance to win the Derby.
Let's look at Hansen's first two starts this year.
In January's Holy Bull, he finished in second place, running a mile at Gulfstream Park. Hansen broke from post position 4 and ran without blinkers as trainer Michael J. Maker wanted to keep Hansen from bolting for the lead. Then in the March Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct, Hansen went off from post 12 as the 4-5 favorite in the 13-horse field. Hansen won the 1 1/16-mile race with ease. The colt seemed more relaxed than in the Holy Bull.
The Gotham victory added a new dimension to Hansen, as he was able to come from behind rather than run in the lead. He showed a tremendous amount of versatility after finding himself five wide entering the first turn.
So while it is fair to question if Hansen can go 1 1/4-miles, it is important to keep this in mind: The Derby is the first time any of these horses will run this far.
Hansen certainly has the pedigree (sired by Tapit) to get the distance if he gets a good trip. Still, none of the Derby hopefuls know for sure if they can run that distance until they actually leave the starting gate.
Hansen is ranked eighth in the latest NTRA three-year-old poll. He finds himself behind several horses he beat in the Juvenile—Union Rags (first in the latest NTRA three-year old poll), who ran second; Alpha (seventh in the poll), who ran 11th; and Creative Cause (fourth in the poll), who ran third.
Here's what Hansen's colorful owner, Dr. Kendall Hansen, told the Daily Racing Form before the Blue Grass:
“I was trying to explain to some people before the championship race, the Breeders’ Cup, that in some ways it’s a little more important than the Kentucky Derby in that you get discussed in almost every sentence about the Kentucky Derby over the next six months,” Hansen said. “So Hansen’s been in the discussion all winter, and it’s been a wonderful pleasure to be associated with a horse that’s figuring in it. There are some longshots that are going to get into the Derby, and perhaps one of them could win, but they’re not getting talked about now, and it’s great that Hansen’s getting the attention from winning that championship.”
The Watchmaker odds currently have Hansen at 10-1 for the Derby. Had he won the Blue Grass, it is entirely possible Hansen would be the favorite leading up to the race.
Now, the reigning champion has become somewhat of an afterthought as horses like Union Rags and Gemologist have taken the spotlight. However, Hansen is certainly capable of stamping his name in Derby lore.
Hansen is ridden by Dominguez, a two-time Eclipse award winner. He has a trainer in Maker who has brought three horses to to the Derby the last two years (Stately Victor in 2010, Derby Kitten and Twinspired in 2011). He showed enough versatility in his Gotham win to prove he can run different styles, while his familiarity with the Churchill Downs track cannot be understated.
Make no mistake, Hansen has what it takes to turn his two-year-old title season into a three-year-old title.