Dr. Kendall Hansen and Sky Chai Racing have the 6-5 morning-line favorite for Keeneland’s $750,000 Toyota Bluegrass Stakes (Grade1) with their Tapit colt, Hansen. Hansen comes into the race off a three length win in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in which he earned a Brisnet speed figure of 105. It was a redemptive win for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Two-Year-Old Champion who was the beaten favorite in his sophomore debut, the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes.
Hansen, who has four wins in five starts, will try the Keeneland Polytrack for the first time on Saturday. He has two wins over Turfway’s Polytrack, but that doesn’t give owner Dr. Kendall Hansen much assurance.
“Not a lot of confidence, but it's exciting when your horse has won his two Polytrack races by 12 and 13 lengths,” said Hansen. “I hope he can have a lot of fun on it Saturday without throwing out his biggest race.”
Trainer Mike Maker brought the colt out to Keeneland early Friday morning for a gate work in an attempt to correct Hansen’s the poor starts from the gate he showed in his last two races. As the top earner on the Kentucky Derby’s graded earnings list with $1.4 Million, Hansen doesn’t need to win this race, but should be the horse to beat. Hansen will break from post 4 with regular rider Ramon Dominguez aboard.
Horses with turf experience or a turf pedigree tend to perform well over Keeneland’s Polytrack and Dullahan and Howe Great have both done well on the turf. Dale Roman’s Dullahan exits a second place performance in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes on the turf in which fellow Bluegrass competitor Howe Great beat him by a length. According to Trakus, the chicklet system that digitally monitors a horse’s position throughout a race, Dullahan covered 44 feet more than Howe Great in the Palm Beach Stakes. The added distance could be equated to just more than five lengths.
Dullahan has a win over the Keeneland course in last fall’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. He also turned in a sharp five furlong work earlier this week at Keeneland in which he covered the distance in :57. Dullahan will be in post position 6 under the guidance of jockey Kent Desormeaux.
Trainer Graham Motion and owner Team Valor International hope Howe Great can get the graded earnings he needs to take them to the Kentucky Derby. Although the connections still have a Derby entry with Went The Day Well, at number 19 on the graded earnings list, the Vinery Racing Spiral winner could be easily knocked off the list.
Howe Great is three for three on the turf, is unbeaten in two starts this year, and has never finished worse than second in five lifetime starts. He’s done well from inside positions in his previous starts, but will have to make an adjustment when he breaks from post 10 in the Bluegrass. The front-running style of Howe Great should help.
A morning line longshot to consider is the California-based Holy Candy. John Sadler chose to skip the Santa Anita Derby last week in favor of the Bluegrass Stakes. Santa Anita odds maker, Jon White, has said the Candy Ride colt would have been 8-1 on the morning line in that race, so at 30-1 in the Bluegrass, and the confidence Sadler must have to ship him across the country, Holy Candy could be an interesting price play.
Rounding out the thirteen-horse field is Heavy Breathing, owned by the connections of Algorithms; Gung Ho, second in the Rushaway; Prospective, the Tampa Bay Derby winner; Russian Greek, who will remove the blinkers for this race; Politicallycorrect, who turned in a bullet work last week; Bob Baffert’s Midnight Crooner; Ever So Lucky, another one coming in with a bullet work; Hero Of Order, the 109-1 winner of the Louisiana Derby just two weeks ago; and Scatman, the front-running son of Scat Daddy.
The race is the 11th on Keeneland’s card and caps four stakes for the day. It is scheduled to post at 6:18 p.m. and can be seen as part of “The Road to the Derby” series on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) and also on TVG.
Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby