Updated on 04/14/2012 10:22AM

Blue Grass gives Hansen opportunity to regain spotlight

Tom Keyser
A win in the Blue Grass Stakes could propel Hansen to the role of favorite for the May 5 Kentucky Derby.

Even though Hansen beat Union Rags and Creative Cause in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to secure the Eclipse Award for the division, and even though he scored a decisive victory from an outside post in the Gotham in his most recent start, Hansen still seemingly is dogged by doubts over whether he’s good enough, especially going 1 1/4 miles, to win the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

He was a fat 26-1 in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby future wager, closed at 9-1 in Pool 2 – which was the weekend of the Gotham – and was 8-1 in Pool 3, behind Union Rags, and the same price as Creative Cause.

That Gotham victory certainly added a new dimension to Hansen, for he no longer is perceived as a colt who must have the lead to be at his best. But in recent weeks, Hansen has been more of an afterthought as Union Rags, Take Charge Indy, Creative Cause, I’ll Have Another, Gemologist, and Alpha have dominated the Derby discussion.

Most of that, to be sure, is the simple product of who is running in each week’s prep races. On that count, Hansen this week finally has his turn in the spotlight for the first time since the Gotham six weeks ago.

“I think that Hansen will get a lot of publicity after this weekend,” Dr. Kendall Hansen, the co-owner of his namesake, said on a national teleconference earlier this week.

Hansen said he believes his colt has been “getting treated really fairly” this spring, cognizant that “the horses that are featured that weekend should be talked about.”

[MORE: Live Video, previews, PPs and wagering for the Blue Grass Stakes]

The talk this week is on the Blue Grass, which drew a field of 13, and the Arkansas Derby, which has a field of 11. Posts for both 1 1/8-mile races were drawn Wednesday. In addition to Hansen, Derby Watch members Dullahan and Prospective are in the Blue Grass. Sabercat and Secret Circle are in the Arkansas Derby, in which Bodemeister is the morning-line favorite.

Both races will be run Saturday, during a one-hour telecast on CNBC beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern.

One of the members of that telecast, Mike Battaglia, will be watching both races with even more interest than most, for he will be entrusted with the unenviable task of making the morning line on this year’s Derby when the field is drawn at Churchill Downs on May 2. Although the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, and Jerome at Aqueduct, are to be run April 21, by Saturday night the horses acknowledged as the major players in this year’s Derby will have had their final preps.

Battaglia said there is a chance Hansen could wind up the favorite, depending on how he performs Saturday.

“He’s right in the mix,” Battaglia said Wednesday morning. “Maybe Gemologist. He might be the favorite. He’s undefeated. Union Rags, he lost last time, and while I know he had a rough trip, if he was the horse I thought he was, I think he would have won. I thought Union Rags was a cinch to be the Derby favorite. I thought he’d win the Florida Derby.

“If Hansen wins Saturday, and does so impressively, I think he could be the Derby favorite. He’s definitely in the top three. He has to be, unless he doesn’t run his race in the Blue Grass.”

Battaglia said there are other factors that come into play when making the Derby line. He said he pays particular attention to horses with high speed figures or whose sheet numbers are superior, knowing those horses will get plenty of play. He said the fact Union Rags “never really has run a big number” will enter into his equation.

Battaglia also said that workouts the week of the Derby must be heeded. Buzz the week of the race, be it positive or negative, can influence bettors.

“A lot of it comes down to how they train those last 10 days at Churchill Downs,” Battaglia said.

“That’s always very important, especially if a horse trains like Street Sense did,” Battaglia said, referring to the winner of the 2007 Derby, whose final works were brilliant.

Hansen, the person, is hoping Hansen, the horse, can follow Street Sense’s lead. Street Sense won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs six months before his Derby victory. Hansen is in position to do the same, and that win over the track is “everything,” Hansen said, not just because it proves Hansen likes Churchill Downs, but because it put Hansen at the forefront of the Derby discussion.

“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.”