GOTHAM STAKES | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 3 | 1 1/16 MILES
Any suggestion that Hansen was a mere a one-dimensional speedball proved unfounded in Saturday's Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham at Aqueduct, as last year's juvenile colt champion overcame an outside post, a wide journey into the clubhouse turn, and having a little dirt kicked in his face for the first time to register an emphatic three-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile inner dirt event.
Unable to clear the field from post 12, Hansen was forced four-wide into the first turn, but moved up quickly approaching the backside to get within a half-length of King and Crusader, who would eventually carve out fractions of :23 3/5, :47 2/5 and 1:11 3/5. Hansen kept in close contact with that longshot, stalking in second a half-length behind as the field advanced around the final turn. Approaching the quarter pole, jockey Ramon Dominguez asked Hansen for run, and the charismatic gray responded readily by opening up on the field. Through the stretch, Hansen drew off by three lengths over 5-1 second choice My Adonis, with the rest of the field struggling to make any ground from far back. Hansen maintained his advantage to wire, finishing the distance in 1:43 4/5 over a track labeled good.
"He really took the step forward as far as maturing," Dominguez said. "He actually did it better than I expected -- he was so relaxed. Coming to the three-eighths pole when he switched to his left lead and I got after him, he went on beautiful. He really did it as nice as I could expect. I was hoping that he could take the step forward, mind-wise, but he really took it further than I expected. Awesome. Galloped out like a freight train, too."
Sent off as the 4-5 choice, Hansen, who was racing for the first time without blinkers, returned $3.60, $2.80 and $2.50. My Adonis was six lengths clear for second, with 25-1 chance and long-time trailer Finnegans Wake winning a three-way photo for third. Completing the order of finish was Tiger Walk, Pretension, Stealcase, Raconteur, King and Crusader, Side Road, Done Talking, Dan and Sheila, Suns Out Guns Out and Maan.
"Obviously, I didn't like losing all that ground, but of more concern to me was he didn't leave the gate as quick as he normally has," winning trainer Mike Maker said. "But Ramon said it was no big deal, he settled nice and that's what we were looking for. More impressive, he lost all that ground and wasn't rank behind horses and settled. Ramon said [on] his gallop out, he had to call the outriders to come and get him. Great.
"He did everything perfect today, and I don't have to be embarrassed after his last race," added Maker, referring to the colt's first career loss in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on January 29. "I hope we can keep him figured out for the next couple of months."
Maker said he would likely take Hansen back to Kentucky to train for the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 7, contested at 1 1/8 miles over Aqueduct's main track.
Bred in Kentucky by majority owner Dr. Kendall Hansen, the gray son of Tapit debuted over Polytrack at Turfway Park on September 9 in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight. In a sign of things to come, Hansen opened up early on the opposition and won as he pleased by 12 1/4 lengths under Victor Lebron. The catch-me-if-you-can attitude was on display again two weeks later in the $95,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile over 1 1/16 miles. Sent early by Lebron to a wide lead while setting a moderately quick tempo, Hansen toyed with his seven rivals and drew away to an emphatic 13 1/4-length score.
With his prowess on dirt unknown and his running style clearly one-dimensional, there was much more skepticism among bettors for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile on November 5. There was also Union Rags, the New York-based colt who had established divisional leadership with wide-margin victories in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Grade 1 Champagne, whom the crowd backed to even-money favoritism. Hansen, who had won at odds of 4-5 and 1-2 in his two wins at Turfway, was sent off at 7-1 in the Juvenile.
Now racing for a partnership that included Sky Chai Racing, the colt was allowed to run the way he wanted under new rider Ramon Dominguez. Though he again established a comfortable lead, there would be no daylight gap against a much tougher field. Hansen's longest lead was two lengths at the first call and it would progressively decline as the race wore on.
While Hansen attempted to buck a trend that generally saw speed as a liability over the Churchill main track on Breeders' Cup weekend, his running style helped him avoid some of the bad luck experienced by his rivals. Union Rags, in particular, was forced to race four wide much of the way after breaking from post 10. When Union Rags finally got within a few feet of taking over the lead from Hansen in the stretch, he drifted out and lost momentum. Union Rags came on again at the finish, but Hansen held on by a desperate head to claim the victory.
Hansen kicked off his 2012 season in the Holy Bull, contested over a sloppy Gulfstream Park strip. The 4-5 choice, he stumbled leaving the gate and then set a fast but unpressured pace of :23 3/5, :45 3/5 and 1:10 1/5. However, he could not sustain himself through the stretch and weakened to second, five lengths behind the now-sidelined Algorithms. He's now earned $1,463,305.
Hansen was produced by the winning Sir Cat mare Stormy Sunday. The juvenile champ has a winning full brother named Tapanna and an unraced two-year-old half-brother by Corinthian. Hansen is the first stakes winner reared by any of his first five dams.