Hansen Still Likely for West Virginia Derby

When Union Rags  dropped out of the July 29 Haskell Invitational (gr. I) due to a suspensory injury, it left the door open for a possible Bodemeister Hansen speed slugfest to determine the top 3-year-old in training, with late-closing Dullahan poised to take advantage of the anticipated battle.

But Union Rags’ defection likely will have no bearing on Hansen’s schedule, which calls for a start in the Aug. 4 West Virginia Derby (gr. II). Hansen’s trainer, Mike Maker, and owner, Dr. Kendall Hansen, have two targets this year for their colt: Bodemeister and the Travers Stakes (gr. I). But with the good possibility of Bodemeister skipping the Travers in favor of the seven-furlong King’s Bishop (gr. I), Maker and Dr. Hansen have to decide which of their targets has top priority.


Since the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the Travers has been Hansen’s main objective, and the feeling in the colt’s camp is that the best way to get there and to the big fall races is not to subject him to a hard race against Bodemeister four weeks earlier. So, as of now, Hansen will remain on course for the West Virginia Derby.


"It's 90% for the West Virginia Derby and 10% for the Haskell," Dr. Hansen said. “I sympathize with fans and writers that want to see Bodemeister and Hansen fight it out from gate to wire in the Haskell. Fans want to see the best horses face each other as often as possible. I understand that, however I feel differently as an owner of a grade I winner, champion, and Kentucky Derby hopeful for most of the year. Never having had a horse like Hansen finds me in a different and unfamiliar place. I find I am very focused on trying not to make a bad decision.


"We don't want Hansen to end up on the sidelines like seven or eight of this year’s Derby contenders or like I'll Have Another  and Union Rags. We want Hansen to run as a 4-year-old and possibly a 5-year-old. Mike Maker told me that 'Two tough races does not make sense when we can make the same money with only one tough race.' Back-to-back tough races can be hard on a horse, as evidenced by the lack of Triple Crown winners. It makes sense to pick your spots, and we have chosen the Travers Stakes for our showdown with the best.


"Personally, I think a race at Monmouth now with Hansen and Bodemeister would end up very similar to a front-running match race. We would not allow him to steal it from the gate. I don't think it is in Hansen's best interest to do that twice in one month. Do we want to see it? I understand the 'yes' answer, but Mike has the plan, and I know that includes beginning to peak Travers week.”


But there is still that nagging desire to take on Bodemeister and prove who is the faster horse. Dr. Hansen had been hoping that would come in the Travers, but if Bodemeister does indeed skip the Midsummer Derby and hand the task over to his stablemate Paynter , then Dr. Hansen will have to decide if he wants to stay on his original course.


"Maybe if we get bold in two weeks we could pull the trigger,” he said. “I am going to think more... I really, really want to outfinish Bodemeister. Most think he is the best horse at eight to nine furlongs."


The ultimate goal is to have Hansen finish the year off on a strong note and prove to everyone what Dr. Hansen and Maker have felt all along.


"Our goal is to reestablish Hansen as the best 3-year-old in training," Dr. Hansen said. "We feel Bodemeister may be the leading contender. We understand he is a horse we are going to have to go through. Hansen tends to run red blood counts in the low normal range. It seems to be improving and we hope for it to be in the mid normal range by August 25 (Travers day).


"So, while we are still leaning heavily toward the West Virginia Derby, this is all dynamic. Other reasons to stay with the Mountaineer plans are the close proximity and driving three or four hours versus flying, and more of my friends can attend. In addition I may have two other horses running there the same day. I own 10% of Travis Morgeson and therefore 10% of Circle Unbroken, a 2-year-old grade III winner at Churchill.


"Similarly, since Travis Morgeson owns 10% of the Churchill Debutante (gr. III) winner Blueeyesintherein, I have 1%. The disadvantage is that, of course, the Haskell Invitational is a grade I, carries a lot of history, and is very prestigious to win. Perhaps I can ask (Ahmed) Zayat and Bob Baffert to swap and they can come to West Virginia.


"I am very excited to be pointing Hansen toward meeting the best 3-year-olds in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. When Hansen runs strong there, it will show us that he was not just a precocious 2-year-old, but rather a champion that was able to make the rare transition to being a grade I competitive older horse."


Hansen has captured the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) and Iowa Derby (gr. III) this year and was second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).