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This weekend at Oaklawn Park and Keeneland Racetrack capped off the final, serious Derby prep races for 2012. Hansen, who looked prepared to take the Bluegrass Stakes wire to wire, was run down by Dullahan and Bodemeister made a mockery of the Arkansas Derby, amidst tough competition.

Hansen came into Saturday’s Grade I Bluegrass Stakes as a 6-5 favorite. He had come to Kentucky after winning the Gotham Stakes back on March 3rd, and seemed poised to become the darling of race fans. As has become his trademark, the Ramon Dominguez jockeyed, white colt bolted to the front of the field, but could not pull away from the pack as he had in several previous races. Midway through the turn, he was challenged by Gung Ho, but was able to hold on and Dullahan was as far back as 10th at that point. At the top of the stretch, it looked as though Hansen was going to be able to stretch his lead as Gung Ho couldn’t keep pace, but Dullahan was making tremendous strides and closing fast from the outside. In an amazing close out, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux got all that he could out of his thoroughbred and took what looked to be a sure victory for Hansen, away from the favorite.

Dale Romans, Dullahan’s trainer, made sure that the racing world knew his thoroughbred wasn’t running for second; “I would have been very disappointed if he ran second, if he didn’t win.” (1) Dullahan ran the fastest time in the Bluegrass Stakes since Keeneland went to synthetic dirt six years ago. The race itself wasn’t the only excitement surrounding the day at Keeneland, which saw a record crowd of 40,167 crank through the turnstiles. Hansen owner, Dr. Kendall Hansen, had his colt’s tail colored blue early in the day, but then found out he and his trainer, Mike Maker could face discipline in the way of a fine or suspension for breaking the rules on altering a horse’s appearance. The dye was washed out, but it was obvious that Maker, who had nothing to do with the dyeing of Hansen’s tail wasn’t thrilled with the circumstances surrounding his horse just hours before the race. “My job is to bring the horse over ready for the race, and I did my job.”(1) Maker said following the race. Later, he added, “It wasn’t something you wanted, to go in there and keep aggravating the horse. And that’s what happened.” Hansen, blue tail or not, will run next on May 4th in the Kentucky Derby, as will Dullahan, who has now thrust himself into the mix as a serious Derby contender.
In Hot Springs, at Oaklawn Park, there wasn’t quite the fanfare or the circus feel that was going on in Lexington, but there was another important Kentucky Derby prep race taking place, with the Arkansas Derby. This affair turned out to be all Bob Baffert, as he had the first and second place finishers in Bodemeister and Secret Circle. Secret Circle was the talk of the Baffert stable recently as his development as a distance runner was taking shape and putting him on quite a few lists as a sleeper for Derby 138. But, it’s Bodemeister, who hadn’t run a race as a two-year-old that had the race world buzzing. Bodemeister was jockeyed by Mike Smith for the first time after his former rider, Rafael Bejarano, opted to gallop into Triple Crown racing aboard Secret Circle. Smith had a tremendous ride as Bodemeister pulled out in front early and never relinquished the pace, going on to win by nearly 10 lengths. By closing out the race in such spectacular fashion, Bodemeister should be considered one to watch on May 4th. Secret Circle, who finished second, and third place finisher Sabercat (trained by Steve Asmussen) will also be heading towards Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, to take their shot at glory.

Now that the major prep races have concluded, race fans will anxiously await workouts and any tidbit of news they can find on what appears to be a very fine crop of thoroughbreds making their way towards Louisville and the “Run for the Roses”. If the Triple Crown preseason has been any indication, we should be in for an exciting spring of racing.

(1) Courier-Journal 4/15/2012 (Bluegrass Stakes)