Last we saw him, the nearly-white Hansen was dropping jaws at Churchill Downs after stubbornly holding on against heavily-favored Union Rags in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Until then, the son of Tapit was thought to be little more than a Turfway wonder—he won both of this starts there like some kind of mythical Pegasus, soaring to win each by over a dozen lengths. Now that he’s proven to the masses he can tango with the best of them, Hansen must show us he hasn’t lost a step a 3-year-old. Will his 2012 campaign be as explosive as his 2011? We’ll find that out this Sunday, when he makes his first start of the year in the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.
It’s hard not to like a colt that stands out like a magical horse ripped from the pages of a Bruce Coville novel. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s fast—Hansen likes to zip to the front and extend his lead to a comfortable margin, then break his rivals hearts by widening to a tiny speck in the distance. He didn’t pull off quite that scenario in the BC Juvenile; while the start of the race was exactly the way he had run each race before, at the top of the stretch, the rest of the field started to catch up to him. And perhaps if Union Rags hadn’t been caught wide on the turn and then drifted out into the middle of the track, the White Wonder would’ve been collared on the wire. Hansen ended up winning that bout by a head, serving Union Rags his first defeat. The two of them have since been training in Florida on separate tracks, but their paths to the Derby are sure to meet again unless one of them opts to begin the road to Kentucky in a different state. For now, Hansen will strike out first by trying to win the first prep for the Florida Derby.
Only five rivals will contest the newly-minted Eclipse winner in the 1-mile Holy Bull: Silver Max, Consortium, My Adonis, Fort Loudon, and Algorithms. One of the stand-out competitors in this field is Algorithms, a son of Bernardini who is undefeated in two starts and trained by Todd Pletcher. He breezed right by Consortium in their last time out going 6 ½ furlongs at Gulfstream; this spot is a natural step forward for Algorithms, as he has not yet stretched out to a mile, but he will have to be in top form to threaten the likes of Hansen.
Fort Loudon is an interesting horse in this spot. He’s won half of his eight starts, and those came all in a row before that streak was broken in the BC Juvenile, where he finished seventh. He swept the Florida Stallion series at Calder during his streak, but struggled to keep up with the best of them in the stretch of the Juvenile. With a much smaller field in the Holy Bull, this horse has a chance to bounce back, but will have to prove his class at Gulfstream.
Silver Max will try to make the Holy Bull his first dirt victory after breaking his maiden impressively last time out going 1 mile on Gulfstream’s turf course. Silver Max’s first race came at Saratoga on the dirt back in July, but he hit the gate at the break and finished second. He then switched to the turf and finished second four more times until his most recent race. (One of those races was an off the turf race at Belmont over a muddy track.) This son of Badge of Silver seems to have a history of getting into trouble, and that’s likely why it took him so long to break his maiden. If he’s kept in the clear and out of harm’s way like he was on the lead last time out, he could be a threat here. Look for him to try to sit off of Hansen’s heels early on.
My Adonis rounds out the field and is entering after a 9th-place finish in the Delta Jackpot Stakes. He won two races before that—his maiden his fourth time out, and then the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta. This record doesn’t give me a whole bunch of confidence in this spot, but stranger things have happened.
The Grade III Holy Bull Stakes is one of the most honest prep races en route to the Kentucky Derby. Go For Gin and Barbaro both won this before going on to win the roses, and it is a good early gage to check on the temperature of the Florida circuit. If Hansen wins the Holy Bull, he will remain undefeated and give the runners-up the thrill of saying they were in his presence.
The Grade III Holy Bull Stakes will air this Sunday live from Gulfstream Park on HRTV. Post time is scheduled for approximately 4:45pm ET.