Hansen, the brilliant, nearly white frontrunner whose latest victory came in the June 30 Iowa Derby (gr. III), will find the eyes of the nation upon him Aug. 4 when he heads postward as the 3-5 morning line favorite in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. II) at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort.
"The Great White Hope," as owner Dr. Kendall Hansen has dubbed the 3-year-old colt, has been approved by Mountaineer stewards to run with his tail dyed bright blue in the 1 1/8-mile test against nine other sophomores. The race, with an estimated post of 5:45 p.m. EDT, will be televised live nationally in high definition via a 5:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. EDT telecast on Fox Sports.
Hansen is the champion 2-year-old male of 2011 whose victories that season included the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). He drew the number nine post and will be piloted by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who will ride him for the first time. Smith temporarily replaces regular rider Ramon Dominguez, who has opted to ride the Saturday card at Saratoga Race Course.
"Hansen's at the top of his game−he's ready to give it his best," said Mike Maker, the colt's 43-year-old trainer. Maker plans to ship Hansen from the Trackside Training Center in Louisville to Mountaineer either late Aug. 2 or early Aug. 3.
In five starts this year, Hansen ran second in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), won the March 3 Gotham (gr. III), finished second by 1 1/4 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), and was ninth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) before winning the Iowa Derby by 10 lengths in a wire-to-wire romp.
The son of Tapit was unbeaten in three efforts in 2011, including a score in the Bluegrass Cat Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes at Turfway, and his maiden win. His Breeders' Cup victory makes him the only contender in the field eligible for a $150,000 bonus offered for a horse that has already won a grade I stakes.
Maker has also entered Hansen's stablemate, Morgan's Guerrilla, in the West Virginia Derby. Morgan's Guerilla has drawn the five post with Leandro Goncalves named to ride. A 3-year-old son of Ghostzapper , the chestnut colt finished a close second in this year's Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Hawthorne Race Course and was recently third in the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park for Thomas Conway, Jack Conway, Trey Thornton, and Gary Carter.
"The West Virginia Derby distance fits him and there's that huge purse, although I didn't expect the field to be as large as it is," Maker said.
Trainer Gennadi Dorochenko has also entered two runners in the West Virginia Derby. The more prominent of the duo is Raut LLC's Hero of Order, who took the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at odds of 109-1 at Fair Grounds earlier this year. The other is grade III-placed Macho Bull, who races for Olympia Star Inc.
Hero of Order has been unsuccessful when twice trying to chase down Hansen, most recently in the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. Dorochenko's Sharp Humor colt finished a game second but was no match for the winner in the 1 1/16-mile race. On the other hand, his Louisiana Derby win was achieved at nine furlongs, a distance at which Hansen has yet to be victorious.
While Eddie Martin Jr. is named aboard both runners, Dorochenko is familiar with Mountaineer—where he has saddled 115 runners and registered 32 wins for an excellent strike rate of 27.8%—and he knows the local jockeys. It is possible that one of them will ride either Hero of Order or Macho Bull, if both horses remain in the race.
Darley Stable's Le Bernardin has drawn the 7 post under Mike Luzzi. On June 17, the son of Bernardini won the Pegasus Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park in a photo. He tends to run on or close to the lead throughout his races, and could potentially challenge Hansen and Hero of Order for the early speed. Kiaran McLaughlin trains.
Macho Macho, a developing come-from-behind runner for owner Jerry Durant, will exit the 4 post under Corey Nakatani. The Macho Uno colt is trained by Steve Asmussen, a three-time West Virginia Derby winner (with Real Dandy, Zanjero and Soul Warrior, all of whom also had strong closing kicks).
Called to Serve shipped from his Southern California base to Mountaineer July 31, the first West Virginia Derby contender to arrive on the grounds. Trained by Peter Eurton, the son of Afleet Alex has a 1 1/8-mile win on his resume for Mr. and Mrs. Marc Ferrell, achieved in allowance company May 28 on the synthetic surface at Betfair Hollywood Park.
$750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. II, Race 8, approximate post 5:45 p.m. EDT), 3YOs, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)