Hansen is visually, the most stunning of thoroughbreds.
He is almost white.
And late in 2011 he was white hot on the race track, winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old championship.
And now on the road to the Kentucky Derby, Hansen's principal owner, also named Hansen, thought it would be a great idea to dye the horse's tail blue for the Gotham Stakes.
But the stewards at the New York Racing Association, taking their cue from the All England Tennis Club of the 1950's, ruled that Hansen would run all white, or he would not run at all.
And so, Hansen ran au natural. He would be pristine except for a saddle, a saddle cloth and Ramon Dominguez.
And not to fear, Hansen did not need a blue tail to separate himself from the field at Aqueduct Race Track. This was a new Hansen, who rated off the pace and relaxed until he ran away, winning by three lengths.
If the owner had prevailed, the field would have seen nothing but blue down the stretch. Dominguez was just along for the ride. It was like Hansen had a jet pack in his tail. It wouldn't have been a stretch to paint flames on hind quarters.
Hansen is a standout not because of his color but because he's fast. And now he's one start and two months away from the Kentucky Derby.
That one start will be the Wood Memorial back at Aqueduct but on the outer track, a different surface than the winter circuit used for the Gotham. But that shouldn't be a problem for Hansen, who has won on Polytrack at Turfway, dirt at Churchill and the winter dirt in New York. He even ran a decent race in the mud at Gulfstream.
Hansen has answered some big questions. Yes, he can rate and relax in a two turn race. Yes, he can run on any surface. Yes, he can win at Churchill. That leaves one big question. Can he get the distance? The answer is two months away. But in early March, Hansen is certainly a top Derby contender.
Meanwhile at Turfway Park there was a little bit of Deja Vu in the John Battaglia Stakes. The winner was State of Play owned by Team Valor and trained by Graham Motion. They wouldn't dare do it again? This was a modest field at Turfway but State of Play could use the Spiral Stakes as his stepping stone to the Derby just like Animal Kingdom.
Like Animal Kingdom, State of Play has done his best running on the turf. He won a Grade Two stakes at Saratoga last summer. But switching a grass horse to dirt for the Derby is an increasingly serious option for many trainers. Dale Romans has at least three turf candidates, who could make the Derby.
For this week's Top Twenty, Hansen certainly jumps into the top two but his journey to New York fueled some suspicions that he was dodging tougher competition in Florida. And other than second place My Adonis, the Gotham had the look of a fancy allowance race.
1. Union Rags
If you go back and look at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, you'll see Union Rags lose to Hansen by a long nose. If the race is a few yards longer, Union Rags is cashing the big check. And of course, the Derby is 3/16th of a mile longer.
Did I mention that Hansen won the Gotham Stakes from the 12 hole and was forced about five wide on the first turn. The son of Tapit had enough tactical speed to rally round the first turn and rate just off the leader King and Crusader. I've always thought Tapit was a pretty good distance sire.
3. El Padrino
He went to New Orleans and ran into a horse race. El Padrino wound up in a stretch drive with Mark Valeski and stuck his head in front at the end. This was a make or break race for El Padrino and he showed he has the right stuff for Derby. But, will he face Union Rags in the Florida Derby or return for the Louisiana Derby, which is one day later.
With two distance wins at Aqueduct, Alpha was said to be waiting for the Wood Memorial as his final Derby prep. But having witnessed the Gotham runaway, does Kiaran McLaughliln want to stay in New York or take his Bernardini colt to another spot. Alpha has not raced against a horse as good as Hansen.
5. Mark Valeski
His race in the Risen Star was a real coming out party, but just one more race on the Derby trail means little room for error with this son of Proud Citizen.
Trainer Larry Jones says the Louisiana Derby is next, and Valeski needs to hit the board to win enough cash to make the starting gate in Louisville.
6. Secret Circle
Part of the Derby puzzle this spring is where and when Bob Baffert will run his contenders. Secret Circle won a division of the Southwest Stakes at a mile and he has enough graded stakes money because he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. Usually, if an owner has enough money, they give the Derby a shot.
Although he ran the mile a full second slower, Castaway actually has the better distance pedigree of the two winners of the Southwest. But Castaway took six races to break his maiden. His Beyer speed figure at Oaklawn was 92 and he could be shipped back for the Rebel Stakes on March 17.
8. I'll Have Another
He has not raced since his win in the Bob Lewis Stakes but did he turn in a eye-popping work on March 3. The clocker timed I'll Have Another in :58 1/5 for five furlongs and 1:10 flat for six. And he was running alone. He won't run until the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. He would be among the least experienced horses ever to win a Kentucky Derby
9. Fed Biz
Another Baffert student with tons of potential but a brief resume.
Fed Biz is a Giant's Causeway and moves into stakes company to make the next step. That race could be the San Felipe. Baffert is considering Fed Biz, Bodemeister and Liaison for that race, but will only two will run. Ah! To have too many Derby horses. What a problem.
He drilled five furlongs in 1:00 2/5, side by side with Secret Circle and his workmate is a proven Breeders' Cup champ. Bodemeister is just maiden winner but when he runs again, a lot of people will be watching to see where he fits into the Baffert Derby plan.
It's been a long vacation but he has $600,000 in graded money from the Delta Jackpot, so it's just a matter of finding two prep races. Trainer Steve Asmussen will chose between Oaklawn and Santa Anita for the comeback. At that point Sabercat will be asked to prove if he is fast enough to run with the best.
12. News Pending
This is the latest Dale Romans trainee to break his maiden on grass and then move nicely to a dirt race. But News Pending is a Harlan's Holiday and his second place in the Fountain of Youth showed he might make really big news before the spring is over. By the way, stablemate Finnegan's Wake also hit the board in the Gotham, giving Romans another possible Derby horse.
13. Take Charge Indy
The name says it all when it comes to pedigree.
He's an A. P. Indy, out of the champion mare, Take Charge Lady.
He's shown a tendency to lose races down the stretch but if they can teach him to fire a little later, then anything is possible. Just worked a four furlong bullet at Palm Meadows, :47.6.
It's been a long time since he won the Kentucky Jockey Club in November but the WinStar plan was two races and the Derby, just like Super Saver.
So, the two races look like the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby. Gemologist worked five furlongs in 1:00.2 on March 3.
15. Creative Cause
It's one of those years that it's really hard to find twenty Derby horses in early March. But Creative Cause did finish third in the Breeders' Cup to Hansen and Union Rags, and as we know, that's pretty good company. However, his only race this year was a modest third in the San Vincente. He needs to show more creativity in his next race.
16. Howe Great
This is the Team Valor division of our Top Twenty.
Howe Great has won three in a row and will stay on the grass for the Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream. And that means he'll run into Dullahan, trained by Dale Romans, who also has Derby on his mind. Despite his success on grass, Howe Great was sired by Hat Trick, who was by Sunday Silence, who yes…won the Derby.
This is a good place to put Dullahan because we can give you the rest of the turf to dirt route to Churchill Downs. After the grass in Florida, Dullahan heads to Keeneland where he won the Breeders' Futurity as a two year old. But he was also fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, indicating that dirt is not a problem.
This is another two year old champion with something to prove this year.
Liaison won the CashCall futurity in December and a lot of graded cash but his return in the Bob Lewis Stakes was an eighth place disaster. His next race will make him a contender again or a two year old comet that faded away.
19. Battle Hardened
He clings to the Top Twenty after his win in the Sam F. Davis but the moment of truth draws near in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 10. I've often mentioned that Tampa horses do well at Churchill, but Battle Hardened will have to prove his mettle again.
20. Rousing Sermon
They say he's been working like a banshee for the San Felipe Stakes, the most recent four furlongs in :46 and 3/5th. Jerry Hollendorfer trains Rousing Sermon and he certainly knows the way to Louisville. This guy’s work in the pulpit may depend on who Bob Baffert sends for the congregation.
And it’s been a tough week for casualties along the Derby trail.
The injury to Algorithms turned out to be a fracture and that took him to surgery.
Another Bernardini colt, Consortium went to the sidelines with an ankle injury and the well named Junebugred is also out of action with an ankle chip.
And Darley's Out of Bounds, winner of the Sham Stakes, suffered a fracture while working for the San Felipe. He'll be out at least 90 days.
It's another big weekend coming up for Derby preps.
The Tampa Bay Derby, the San Felipe Stakes and the Swale Stakes are all featured on March 10.
Thanks for reading.