Sky Chai's the Limit...Again?

Owners sent out Twinspired last year; have Hansen for this year's Run for the Roses.

Trainer and Mike Maker and Thoroughbred owner Harvey Diamond have been down the Derby trail together…but this time they mean it.

Maker is the trainer of Hansen, the 2-year-old champion of 2011 and winner of this year’s Gotham Stakes (gr. II), and a top contender for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Diamond operates Sky Chai Racing, along with Jim Shircliff, and is a co-owner of Hansen. Hansen was bred by Dr. Kendall Hansen, who sold part interest in the son of Tapit  last fall prior to the colt’s victory in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).

Maker, Diamond, and his wife, Sandy, were at the Churchill Training Center the morning of April 28 to watch Hansen’s final workout prior to the Derby. Hansen, working with 2010 Derby starter Derby Kitten, got five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 over the half-mile oval. Dr. Hansen was not at the work and not expected in Louisville until May 1.

A year ago, Diamond was at the Derby with the Maker-trained Twinspired , a son of Harlan's Holiday that shipped to Churchill Downs off a third-place finish in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) and runner-up effort (beaten a nose) in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Both graded stakes were run on Polytrack. With $197,500 in graded earnings, Twinspired didn’t officially crack the starting line-up until April 26. Twinspired finished 17th.

“He was basically a Poly-turf horse but once you’ve got the earnings, who won’t take a shot on Derby day?” Diamond mused outside Maker’s barn. “We went in with low expectations and I think our expectations are higher this year.”

Maker’s expectations are higher, too. With $1,550,000 in graded earnings, Hansen is at the top of the list as far as thid year's qualifiers. Hansen will be Maker’s fourth Derby starter. Derby Kitten ran 14th in 2010 and his stablemate Stately Victor, ran eighth. He sent out Twinspired last year.

What has Maker learned from his past Derby experiences?

“Grass horses don’t fare well in the Derby; mine haven’t,” he said. “The last two years we’ve had Polytrack horses and turf horses. It’s the Kentucky Derby, so anything can happen, so you have to take a chance.”

Maker and his owners have been taking chances for some time.

“Jimmy Shircliff and Harvey have been supporters for awhile since I’ve been on my own,” Maker said. “Not only are they good clients, but they’re good friends. Dr. Hansen has been a great client, but he’s only been a client for a couple of years.

“Harvey just wandered in the barn one day and he was a minority partner in a horse I had. He asked me what I thought of the horse and I said he was a piece of crap and he just looked at me and said, ‘Well, I just bought into it.’ I said, ‘Oh.’ He must have appreciated my honesty.”

With Hansen, they have an honest-to-gosh contender on their hands.

“We feel like we’ve got a good horse; we feel like he’s doing well; and we feel like he’s going to represent our interests in a high manner,” Diamond said.

The owner will keep a similar Derby week schedule.

“I’ll go to John E’s (restaurant) on Monday, the trainer’s dinner Tuesday night, have a quiet Wednesday and Thursday, go to the Oaks and probably have a quiet evening with my children on Friday night,” Diamond said. “Saturday? I’ll be out there (at the track) fairly early. It goes really fast once they start racing. You don’t think it does, but it goes very fast. All of a sudden, it’s your race and all the craziness starts. The walk over is the best part of Derby.”

This time, the Diamonds will walk over with last year’s 2-year-old champion. Perhaps they’ll walk out of Churchill Downs draped in roses.