04/12/2012 3:01PM

Blue Grass: Hansen could face some early pressure

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Tom Keyser
Hansen will try to become the first favorite to win the Blue Grass Stakes since 2003 and the first juvenile champ to win since 1980.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A crush of horses bearing down from his outside would be something brand new for Hansen. As fast as he is, the nearly white colt has grown accustomed to free-wheeling out front, and never in his first five races has he encountered any such difficulty.

Come Saturday, however, when the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes is run for the 88th time at Keeneland, the possibility clearly exists that Hansen will have company on top – although Mike Maker, who trains the champion 2-year-old of 2011 for Dr. Kendall Hansen, said he can’t concern himself with all the potential scenarios of the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race.

With 13 3-year-olds, the largest number of starters in Blue Grass history since 14 ran in 1974, there is speed aplenty to the outside of Hansen, who will start from post 4 with Ramon Dominguez aboard as the 6-5 morning-line favorite in one of the last major preps for the May 5 Kentucky Derby.

[BLUE GRASS: Get PPs and watch Saturday's Keeneland card live]

“Ideally, I’d like him to go [six furlongs] in 1:15 and change, but I know that’s not going to happen,” Maker said. “There are 13 horses in here, and it’s going to be nothing compared to when there’s 20 in the Derby. I’ll just have Ramon let him run out of there, place himself, and what happens after that happens. If they all try to take a run at him, I’m confident he can just sit there and relax and still run his race.”

Where to start with the potential early challengers? Every one of the horses from post 8 through 13 – not to mention Heavy Breathing, who gets post 1 – have shown themselves capable of flashing effective speed, although the obvious question to be answered is whether any would want to go in fractions swift enough to ruin their chances in the end. Curiously, the horse with a slew of 1’s on his past performances – Howe Great (post 10, Javier Castellano), a winner of his last four starts – might back away from a fast pace, according to Barry Irwin, who manages the Team Valor International partnership that owns the colt.

“He’s a very explosive horse, but I don’t know if that means we’ll necessarily want the early lead,” Irwin said.

Another of the burners is Hero of Order (post 12, Eddie Martin Jr.), who runs back on 12 days’ rest after stunning the racing world with his 109-1 victory in the April 1 Louisiana Derby. Russian-born trainer Gennadi Dorochenko said he is not as concerned about how the pace plays out as much as the colt proving his Fair Grounds win was no fluke.

Hero of Order, even if he wins, still probably will not make the Derby, because he is not nominated to the Triple Crown, which means any original nominee gets preference over him in making the 24-horse cutoff, regardless of graded earnings.

Dale Romans, trainer of Dullahan (post 6, Kent Desormeaux), said he thinks the Blue Grass sets up very well for his budding stable star, who rallied from far back to win the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity here last fall.

“I think it sets up a lot like the Futurity did,” Romans said. “There is a whole lot of speed in there, which obviously is good for us, at least on paper. All I know is our horse is coming into this the right way.”

Likewise, the connections of Prospective (post 3, Luis Contreras) are hopeful that things will unfold in their favor, since the Malibu Moon colt also has developed a nice kick, which he used in winning the Tampa Bay Derby five weeks ago.

As for Hansen, while he surely will be a solid favorite, it may be worth noting that he will be trying to buck a couple of trends: No favorite has won the Blue Grass since Peace Rules prevailed as a 3-5 shot in 2003, and the last 2-year-old champion to win the race was Rockhill Native in 1980.

The Blue Grass will be televised along with the Arkansas Derby on the CNBC cable network on a one-hour telecast that begins at 6 p.m. Eastern, with the Blue Grass going at 6:18. Twelve races are carded for Saturday at Keeneland for the first time in track history, with the Blue Grass going as the 11th. First post is 1:05 p.m.

The Blue Grass is the last of four straight graded stakes on the program and anchors a 50-cent pick four linking them all. Those lead-in races are the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley (race 8), the Grade 2 Commonwealth (race 9), and the Grade 3 Shakertown (race 10).

Summer-like weather is in the forecast, with temperatures reaching into the 80s. The ontrack crowd figures to approach 30,000.

Historic as this race is, no horse has won both the Blue Grass and Derby since Strike the Gold did it in 1991. The last Derby winner to start in the Blue Grass was Street Sense, beaten a nose here in 2007.

Toyota Blue Grass S., Post Time: 6:18 ET Saturday

Purse: $750,000; 1 1/8 miles

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

ML Odds

1

Heavy Breathing

T. Pletcher

C. Lanerie

12-1

1

Gung Ho

M. Maker

E. Prado

30-1

1

Prospective

M. Casse

L. Contreras

10-1

1

Hansen

M. Maker

R. Dominguez

6-5

1

Russian Greek

G. Dorochenko

M. Mena

50-1

1

Dullahan

D. Romans

K. Desourmeaux

6-1

1

Politicallycorrect

W. Ward

E. Trujillo

30-1

1

Midnight Crooner

B. Baffert

G. Gomez

15-1

1

Holy Candy

J. Sadler

J. Rosario

30-1

1

Howe Great

H. Motion

J. Castellano

6-1

1

Ever So Lucky

J. Sheppard

J. Leparoux

12-1

1

Hero of Order

G. Dorochenko

E. Martin, Jr.

12-1

1

Scatman

M. Lauer

S. Bridgmohan

12-1