Reigning two-year-old champion Hansen faces a major test this Saturday at Keeneland in the 88th running of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
While he already has enough stakes earnings to give him a spot in the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill, his connections – owner Dr. Kendall Hansen and Skychai Racing, trainer Mike Maker and jockey Ramon Dominguez, are going to give the three-year-old colt one more major prep race before the big day on the first Saturday in May.
According to the Keeneland press release, morning-line maker Mike Battaglia has installed Hansen as the 6-to-5 morning-line favorite for the 1-1/8-mile race, which will be contested on the main Polytrack.
Hansen has won on Polytrack before, most recently the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park last September. The Blue Grass will be his first race on the surface since that race.
Hansen finished last year with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill, which earned him the Eclipse Award as two-year-old champion.
So far this year, Hansen finished second in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream on January 29. The race was his first of the year and was raced on a sloppy track.
He rebounded strong and won his next start on March 3, the Gotham Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct.
Hansen is also the first two-year old champion to run in the Blue Grass Stakes since Street Sense finished second in the race in 2007. Street Sense went on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Hansen will break from post position four.
Facing Hansen will be 12 other contenders trying to upset the favorite.
Two horses are listed as the 6-to-1 second choices, Dullahan and Howe Great.
Dullahan comes into the race off a second place finish behind Howe Great in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3), which was run on the turf at Gulfstream earlier this year. Prior to that, he finished in fourth-place behind Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November.
Owned by Donegal Racing and trained by Dale Romans, Dullahan will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux, who will be trying for his first win in the Blue Grass Stakes. He will break from post position six.
The other second favorite is Howe Great, who is owned by Team Valor and trained by Graham Motion, the same team that sent Animal Kingdom to victory in last year’s Kentucky Derby.
Howe Great has won four of five career starts and opened his 2012 season with a victory in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
At 10-to-1, Prospective is fourth on Battaglia’s morning line listing. Owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark Casse, Prospective comes into the Blue Grass off a solid win in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 10.
Undefeated on the Polytrack surface, he will be ridden by Luis Contreras and break from post position three.
Hero of Order, the 109-to-1 upset winner of the recent Louisiana Derby (G2) on April 1 at Fair Grounds, comes into the race as the most experienced three-year old in the field, having already raced 14 times.
Owned and trained by the colorful Russian trainer, Gennadi Dorochenko, Hero of Order is 12-to-1 on the morning line and will be ridden by Eddie Martin Jr., who rode him to the Louisiana Derby victory. He will break from post position number 12.
Dorochenko also has another horse in the race, Russian Greek, who has morning line odds of 50-to-1.
Russian Greek recently won the California Derby at Golden Gates and has three wins in five total starts. He will be ridden by Miguel Mena and break from post position five.
The rest of the field includes:
* Heavy Breathing: Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Corey Lanerie, he is 12-to-1 on the morning line and will break from post position one. Heavy Breathing recently finished third in the Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park. He won his first race, a 7.5-furlong maiden special weight in February 2011 at Gulfstream Park.
* Gung Ho: Trained by Mike Maker, Gung Ho won the Sunday Silence Stakes as a two-year old, and recently finished second in the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway. He will be ridden by Edgar Prado, who has won the Blue Grass three times (Harlan’s Holiday in 2002, Peace Rules in 2003 and Monba in 2008). Gung Ho will break from post position two and has a morning line of 30-to-1.
* Midnight Crooner: What would a major race be if Bob Baffert didn’t have a horse in the running. Well, Midnight Crooner is the horse he brings to the Blue Grass with a morning line of 15-to-1. He will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, who won the 2006 Blue Grass on Sinister Minister. Earlier this year, Midnight Crooner finished third in the Pasadena Stakes at Santa Anita. He will break from post position eight.
* Politicallycorrect: This 15-to-1 morning line three-year old has only one win in five career starts, and that was an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Having said that, he is owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who have always had great success at Keenleand. Trained by Wesley Ward, he will be ridden by Elvis Trujillo and break from post seven.
* Holy Candy: At 30-to-1 morning line odds, this John Sadler trained three-year old recently won a maiden special weight race at Santa Anita. He will be ridden by Joel Rosario and break from post position nine.
* Ever So Lucky: He comes into the race with a morning line of 12-to-1. He is out of the great, but recently passed, sire Indian Charlie and will break from post position eleven. He is trained by Jonathan Sheppard and will be ridden by Joe Bravo.
* Scatman: Mike Lauer brings Scatman to the Blue Grass off two stakes races at Oaklawn: a third-place finish in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and a second place finish in the Southwest Stakes (G3). Installed as 12-to-1 on the morning line, he will be ridden by Luis Quinonez and break from post position 13.
The Blue Grass Stakes is the 11th race on Saturday’s 12-race program and is scheduled to begin at 6:18 p.m. CNBC will show the race live. The program will run from 6-7 p.m.