Hansen is the early favorite in Blue Grass Stakes
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Dr. Kendall Hansen sees signs all around of his horse's surging popularity. It's become a heady experience for the owner and the near-white colt he named for himself.
"It's a dream of a lifetime, but I didn't even dream this far, I'm just trying to take it all in," he said Wednesday after Hansen was made the 6-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 13 3-year-olds for Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
"I'm a little bit (nervous) with the responsibility that comes with it," added the owner, who operates a pain management clinic in Crestview Hills, Ky. "I don't want to make mistakes or embarrass the horse. He's doing just fine on his own. I try to stay back, out of the way."
Hansen, trained by Michael Maker and ridden by Ramon Dominguez, drew the No. 4 post for the 1 1/8th-mile race over Polytrack. Last year's 2-year-old champion comes into his final prep before the Derby on May 5 off a convincing victory in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct last month.
"He's great, he actually starting peaking the weeks after the Gotham and Mike said he's Derby-ready, he's good to go," said Hansen, dressed in a black blazer with a striking white pin in the shape of his horse attached on his lapel. "This race - obviously with the talent in this race - is going to be a tightener for him."
Dullahan, trained by Dale Romans, and Howe Great, trained by Graham Motion, are the second choices at 6-1.
Howe Great is looking to follow in the footsteps of Animal Kingdom, last year's Derby winner. Both horses are owned by Barry Irwin's Team Valor International.
"I wouldn't say I'm confident," Irwin said of his chances with Howe Great. "It's a really tough race and Hansen is the best horse. I don't think (Howe Great) can beat him to tell you the truth."
The Blue Grass is one of the final major Derby preps, but the move from dirt to a synthetic surface in 2006 has made the race more unpredictable with the field in recent years comprised primarily of turf horses looking to cash in on the $750,000 purse.
Street Sense in 2007 is the only horse to run in the Blue Grass and win the Derby since the switch.
The last time a horse won both the Blue Grass and the Derby was Strike the Gold in 1991 and the field hasn't been this big since 14 horses ran in 1974.
Howe Great's last three races have all been on turf, while Dullahan has run three of its last five races on turf.
Owner Ken Ramsey has two horses in the field, Gung Ho and Politcallycorrect. Both are 30-1 long shots, and will break from the Nos. 2 and 7 posts, respectively.
"Maybe if the left one won't get him, then the right one will," Ramsey said.
Hero of Order, the 109-1 long shot who won the Louisiana Derby on April 1, drew the No. 12 post - the same spot he broke from two weeks ago.
While the winner will have enough graded stakes earnings to qualify for the Derby, Hero of Order likely won't make the race no matter where he finishes.
Owner-trainer Gennadi Dorochenko did not nominate the horse he bought for $3,000. To get in, he would have to pay $200,000 to supplement him, then hope less than a maximum field of 20 nominated horses are entered, which is doubtful.
Dorochenko also has a second horse in the race, Russian Greek, who at 50-1 is the longest shot in the field. The horse finished eighth in his last race just over two weeks ago.
"It's a very short period between races for him," Dorochenko said, smiling. "We'll see."