By ROBERT KIECKHEFER
UPI Racing Writer
He was undefeated at age 2, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named Eclipse Award champ. But can Hansen keep moving forward Sunday in his 3-year-old debut?
That will be a key question in an interesting weekend of racing that also includes early tests for both Florida- and California-based 3-year-old fillies, the revamped Florida-only Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream Park and the John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston Race Park.
On Friday in Australia, Black Caviar is slated to go for her 17th win without a loss amid speculation she might travel to Dubai for a step into the big time.
But first, Hansen.
The light gray colt streaked to national prominence in the Breeders’ Cup by winning a ding-dong stretch duel with the heavy favorite, Union Rags. Try as he might, Union Rags couldn’t overcome his wide trip to get by the stubborn Hansen, whose previous wins came at Turfway Park.
But 2-year-old phenoms often either burn out at 3 or simply see their rivals develop into more formidable competition. Will Hansen move ahead or step back in Sunday’s $400,000, Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, going 1 mile on the main track?
After he breezed 5 furlongs in 59.81seconds Sunday morning, trainer Mike Maker said, “We’ve had no bumps in the road. Hopefully, that trend continues.”
The five rivals entered for the Holy Bull include Algorithms and Consortium, a promising pair who finished 1-2 in a recent Gulfstream allowance; Fort Loudon, who swept the three races in last year’s Florida Stallion Stakes; and stakes winner My Adonis.
Hansen has never seen the hindquarters of a rival during a race but Maker said he doesn’t see that as a disadvantage.
“It’s no different than a closer,” he said. “You’re dependent on the pace. You just hope no one makes him go quicker earlier than he has to.”
He was never challenged in his first two starts and got away with 6 furlongs in 1:12.24 in the Breeders’ Cup.
Union Rags, meanwhile, is scheduled to start his 3-year-old campaign at Gulfstream in the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth.
Also on Saturday at Gulfstream, a well-balanced field of 3-year-old fillies will mix it up in the $200,000, Grade II Forward Gal Stakes at 7 furlongs. Wayne Catalano will saddle Sacristy, who won her last two, including the Grade III Old Hat Stakes at 6 furlongs on New Year’s Day. Say a Novena, second in the Old Hat, is back for another try. Good Deed comes in from at win in the Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds. Quick Flip won the Sandpiper at Tampa Bay before finishing fourth in the Old Hat. Yara won the Joe O’Farrell Juvenile Fillies at Calder in November. Broadway’s Alibi is the only starter without a stakes win and she had scored in each of her last two starts, including a scorcher in an optional claimer early in the Gulfstream meet.
And those Sunday races are only the icing on a cake whose six layers comprise the “Sunshine Millions” races for Florida-breds on Saturday worth a total of $1.3 million in purses. A stellar roster of 48 is set for that program, too, headed by the undefeated Awesome Feather and the recent Eclipse Award winner, Musical Romance, racing in the $300,000 Distaff and the $150,000 Filly & Mare Sprint, respectively. Also on the card is Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man in the $400,000 Classic.
“Florida Sunshine Millions Day is going to be a tremendous day of championship racing,” said Gulfstream Park Racing Secretary Dan Bork. “Every race will feature graded-stakes winners and many of the top horses in the country.”
Horse Racing Radio Network will air the Sunshine Millions and a “Luck Pick Six” involving Gulfstream and Santa Anita races, live on its internet site.
Elsewhere around the racing ovals:
Santa Anita has put together a Saturday program that mixes three state-bred stakes events with the $300,000, Grade I Santa Monica Stakes for fillies and mares and the $100,000, Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The day also includes a craft beer festival, beach chair giveaway and a bikini contest so fans can bet, sit, sip and ogle.
Mike Smith will be aboard Rumor for the first time in the Santa Monica, run at 7 furlongs. Rumor, a 4-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie, has never finished worse than second in seven career starts but tackles a graded event for the first time. The field of seven also includes sentimental favorite Home Sweet Aspen.
Killer Graces, a daughter of Congaree, will be among the favorites in a seven-filly field in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel off her win in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet last month. Charm the Maker was third in the Grade I Oak Leaf last fall, then won the Sharp Cat and finished second in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet last time out. Lady of Shamrock and Batalha were first and second in the Blue Norther Stakes on Dec. 30. The result should give a reading on Kentucky Oaks prospects on the West Coast.
The $200,000, Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup, run at 9 furlongs over the Houston-area track turf course, attracted seven starters. The morning-line favorite in that tussle is Proceed Bee, a 6-year-old Bernstein gelding who has been a consistent performer in the Chicago area and in northern Kentucky but visits the Lone Star State for the first time for trainer Scott Becker. In a bit of an oddity, Proceed Bee has made 28 career starts with 12 wins and five thirds but has never finished second.
Adding to the Chicago-area flavor in the Connally is Ioya Bigtime, a 5-year-old Dynaformer gelding handled by Team Block who won three races at Arlington this summer, then overcame a rough start to finish second in the Grade II Fayette at Keeneland in his last start.
And, possibly saving the best for last, Black Caviar is on course to win her 17th race sans loss Friday in the Australia Stakes at Mooney Valley.
Managing owner Neil Werrett told the Press Association Thursday that Black Caviar, should she win the Australia Stakes, is targeted for two more runs in Melbourne. After that, he indicated Royal Ascot is an ultimate target with a potential prep in either of the two sprints on Dubai World Cup night – both of which found Black Caviar’s name on their entry list.
“Royal Ascot is the ultimate goal and (trainer Peter Moody) wants to get her there in 100 percent shape and working out the best way to do that is what we have to talk about,” the PA quoted Werrett.
And if the 6-year-old mare is to travel internationally, there could be stops at the rich stakes races at the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, Japan and/or Hong Kong to round out the year.
First things first: Black Cavier drew the No. 1 post for Friday’s race and will face six rivals.