12/21/2011 3:48PM

Jerardi: Always tricky watching young ones grow up

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Barbara D. Livingston
Hansen (right) defeats Union Rags in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

When I talked to Michael Matz after the 2-year-old stakes on Thanksgiving weekend, he said he would not trade. Have to imagine his reaction would be the same after watching last Saturday's CashCall Futurity.

Since the Breeders' Cup, no 2-year-old has emerged to take the 2012 Kentucky Derby winter book favoritism away from Union Rags, trained by Matz. Only Hansen has been able to beat Union Rags on the track. A few horses ran faster Beyer Speed Figures, but none really proved anything.

There have been just three triple-digit Beyer Figures earned by a 2-year-old this year - J.C.'s Pride and the filly Stopshoppingmaria (both 101) and Overdriven (100). J.C.'s Pride was euthanized in early December due to complications from an infection. Stopshoppingmaria never came close to that maiden win figure in two subsequent seconds in stakes. Overdriven's figure declined seven points in his Sanford win and he never raced again.

This month, we had first-timer Discreet Dancer win by nearly 10 lengths at Gulfstream Park, getting a 98 Beyer at 5 1/2 furlongs for Todd Pletcher. So this is at least an interesting colt as we head to 2012.

Reneesgotzip ran to her name in her debut at Hollywood Park, getting a 98 at six furlongs on the Cushion Track on Dec. 18.

In his first race, Me and My Gals got a 95 at Hoosier Park on Sept. 1. And never ran again.

Seeker got a 95 in his second start and never came close to that number again.

Currency Swap got a 98 in his debut, but went all the way down to an 80 in his Hopeful win. He never raced after the Hopeful.

The most consistently fast 2-year-old was unbeaten Secret Circle who ran only in sprints. His three Beyers were 97, 97, and a 95 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. Given that Bob Baffert has about a hundred other live Triple Crown possibilities for 2012, you wonder if he will try to send this colt longer.

Creative Cause, third to Hansen in the BC Juvenile, got a 98 in his first race. The colt never ran poorly after that, but never got back to that number either.

The unbeaten My Miss Aurelia, who should be a unanimous 2-year-old filly champion, got a 96 when she won the Frizette, but just an 86 when she won the BC Juvenile Fillies.

When you look at the late-fall stakes, there really was not much there. Sabercat got an 80 when he won the Delta Jackpot. Gemologist got an 85 when he won the Kentucky Jockey Club. O'Prado Again's Remsen came up just an 80. Liason got a 91 in his CashCall win. Three lengths separated the first seven in that race, generally not cause for excitement.

Which brings me right back to Union Rags. And Hansen.

Hansen got an 89, 80, and 94 in his three wins. The first two races were won by a combined 25  1/2 lengths, so you figure the colt had more, which he proved in his BC win with that 94.

Union Rags got a 95, 92, and 94 in his final three races. What I liked more than the actual numbers was how they were earned. It was the classic "not how fast he ran but how he ran fast."

In the Saratoga Special, the colt was gunned to the front from the rail and won easily. In the Champagne, he had to make several different moves and again won easily. In the BC, his first two-turn race, he was never covered up, came quite wide on both turns, lost his momentum in the stretch when he swerved out, and was in front a few feet after the finish line.

Hansen and Union Rags will have their second race of the year in the ballot box as the votes are tabulated for 2-year-old champion. That will be an interesting race, but is of less concern to me than their relative merits for 2012.

I think it would be a mistake to underestimate Hansen. He is by Tapit, one of the world's hot sires. Winning all your races while loose on the lead may be perceived as some sign of weakness. It may also be a sign that the colt's speed is going to make him dangerous every time he comes out of a starting gate.

There is an assumption Hansen is one-dimensional, but we don't know that. We do know the dimension we know has been pretty dazzling.

Eventually, you would think there is a horse Hansen cannot beat to the front. Then, when we see how he reacts, we will all have a better idea of his place among the best of his generation next year.

Union Rags has already shown several different dimensions. So race shape should not be an issue next year, but you do wonder how explosive his move might be when he gets to run at a hot, contested pace.

Assuming the breed just has not gotten dramatically slower, as the last few 3-year-old classes have suggested, both Union Rags and Hansen will have to improve their numbers in 2012 to win major stakes. If we get typical progression from 2 to 3, I see no reason that does not happen. And, as we hit the end of the year, I don't think we have learned anything we did not know on Nov. 5.
  
Union Rags and Hansen were the best 2-year-olds in the country that day. They are still the best in the country on this day.