01/19/2012 12:38PM

Hansen's road to Derby likely to begin in Holy Bull

Barbara D. Livingston
Hansen gets a postrace kiss from his owner, breeder, and namesake, Dr. Kendall Hansen, after the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. If all goes to plan, Hansen will run in the Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth, and Florida Derby before starting in the Kentucky Derby.

Hansen is spending the winter at Gulfstream Park, where trainer Mike Maker has mapped out a schedule that allows Hansen to remain in Florida and get two or three preps before the May 5 Kentucky Derby.

The first prep is likely to be the Grade 3, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes, a one-turn mile, on Jan. 29. Four weeks later, on Feb. 26, comes the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, and five weeks later at 1 1/8 miles is the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby. The March 31 date of the Florida Derby positions it five weeks out from the 1 1/4-mile Derby at Churchill Downs.

It’s a sensible, logical progression, well spaced and with the distances always increasing.

“That’s Plan A, anyway,” Maker said. “He’ll run two or three times. He’s doing great. I think he’ll run in the Holy Bull. I like the idea of running him out of his own stall. He puts a lot of effort into his training, so it doesn’t take a lot to get him ready.”

[MORE: Maker rises to the forefront with Derby contender]

Hansen got a brief freshening following the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he scored his third victory without a defeat and secured the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male, which he received Monday night.

The Florida Derby has found a home five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, a placing that gained immediate notice in 2006, when Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby following a victory five weeks earlier in the Florida Derby. The Florida Derby was moved to six weeks out from the Derby in 2010 but returned to five weeks out last year.

There has been an increasing trend for final preps to be further out from the Derby. Long gone are the days when the Wood Memorial was two weeks before the Derby and the Blue Grass was nine days before. Last year, Animal Kingdom had his final prep six weeks before the Derby, in the Spiral Stakes.

[MORE: Road To The 2012 Kentucky Derby]

The Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby has been positioned in recent years to act as a final prep to the Kentucky Derby rather than as a mid-March bridge to another prep. It was five weeks out in 2010 but had to be six weeks out last year, owing to the way the calendar fell vis-à-vis the meet’s closing at Fair Grounds. It is back to being five weeks out this year, on April 1. As such, the Louisiana Derby is being run the same weekend as the Florida Derby.

The Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial have been four weeks out for years, and the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby remain three weeks out.

This year, for the first time, there will be an also-eligible list for the Kentucky Derby. A maximum of 20 horses can start in the race, but if more than 20 are entered this year – as has become the norm in the last decade − up to two runners will be placed on the also-eligible list and will get in if a horse in the main body of the race defects in the 48 hours following the post draw.

The only other significant difference to this year’s Triple Crown season over last year is that the bonus money tied to the Preakness Stakes, a prize package that could have totaled as much as $5.5 million, turned out to be a one-and-done and has been quietly discontinued.