03/07/2012 4:50PM

Kentucky Derby 2012: BC Juvenile looking key

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Creative Cause's third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is looking better and better.

In the 28 times the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has been run since 1984, only once, with Street Sense, did the winner also come back six months later and take the Kentucky Derby. Only four other Derby winners – Spend a Buck, Alysheba, Sea Hero, and Mine That Bird – even ran in the Juvenile.

Just as inglorious, though, is how the Juvenile form has often times failed to hold up the following spring, irrespective of success in the Derby. Fans were spoiled by the inaugural Juvenile running in 1984, in which Spend a Buck finished third behind Chief’s Crown and Tank’s Prospect, all of whom were major players the next year.

But for every year like that – such as in 2000, when Macho Uno, Point Given, and Street Cry were the first three across the line – there have been years like 1997, when Favorite Trick secured Horse of the Year by out-running such legends of the turf as Dawson’s Legacy and Nationalore, and 2008 and 2010, when none of the first three finishers in those Juveniles made it to the starting gate the following spring at Churchill Downs.

The 2011 Juvenile, however, is so far shaping up as the key race for this year’s Derby preps.

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Hansen, who won the Juvenile, rebounded from a second-place finish in the Holy Bull to score a stylish victory in last week’s Gotham. And Union Rags, an unlucky second in the Juvenile, came roaring back in his lone start since then, overpowering his rivals in the Fountain of Youth.

In addition, Alpha, who was 11th in the Juvenile, has subsequently captured two stakes at Aqueduct, including the Withers.

Those results have helped boost the confidence of trainers whose prominent Juvenile finishers will have key Derby preps this weekend.

“That’s what I’ve been telling my owner,” Mike Harrington, who trains owner Heinz Steinmann’s Creative Cause, the third-place finisher in the BC Juvenile, said on a national teleconference earlier this week. “Union Rags was impressive, and Hansen won nicely. That must mean that we have a good horse at this point in time.”

Creative Cause is scheduled to make his second start of the year, and since the Juvenile, on Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, which follows his deceptively good third-place finish in the San Vicente last month. Ten were entered in the San Felipe, with Creative Cause landing post 7 and his stablemate, Empire Way, in post 10.

Dullahan, fourth in the Juvenile, is scheduled to make his first start of the year on Sunday in the Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

And Take Charge Indy, fifth in the Juvenile, is entered on Saturday in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby. It will be his second start of the year, following a second-place finish in a Gulfstream allowance race to El Padrino, who validated the form of that race with his subsequent victory in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.

“I think this is a good group of 3-year-olds,” said Dale Romans, the trainer of Dullahan. The Juvenile, Romans said, “was a quality race, and Dullahan showed he could run with them.”

“He had trouble early in the race, and he made up ground on a speed-biased track,” Romans added.

The 2011 Juvenile – significant in that it was run at Churchill Downs, the site of the Derby – was a critical race in the management of Dullahan, who is a half-brother to Mine That Bird. Dullahan came into the Juvenile off a victory in the Breeders’ Futurity on Polytrack at Keeneland, and his form on dirt was in question. But the Juvenile, Romans said, “proved to me, and the ownership group, that he can run with the best horses in the world on dirt.”

Armed with that knowledge, Romans mapped out a 2012 prep schedule he believes offers Dullahan the best chance to get to the Derby. After running in the Palm Beach, which is on turf, he will return to Keeneland, site of his Breeders’ Futurity victory, for next month’s Blue Grass.

“Grass and synthetic, we know he likes both, and they are easier as stepping-stones to the Derby,” Romans said. “But I do feel like he will be at his best on dirt.”

Creative Cause has been among the leaders of this crop since he burst onto the scene in July with a dazzling victory against maidens at Hollywood Park. He subsequently won the Best Pal at Del Mar, then took the worst of a bumping match in the Del Mar Futurity that wound up with him being promoted from third to second via disqualification. Then, in his first start around two turns, Creative Cause comfortably won the Norfolk at Santa Anita.

In the Juvenile, Creative Cause was only a length away from Hansen and Union Rags. Following a three-month break, he was third in the San Vicente, the first of his three scheduled Derby preps.

“He galloped out strong, and he’s come back and worked very well,” Harrington said. “He looks like he should step forward nicely.”