LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Hansen was there, edging out a hard charging Union Rags. Dullahan ran, too, as did Daddy Long Legs, Creative Cause, Take Charge Indy, Alpha, Optimizer and Prospective.
The same horses are expected to line up again on Saturday in the Kentucky Derby, just six months after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on the same Churchill Downs track set the stage for the Run for the Roses.
While no horse has distinguished itself as a clear-cut favorite ahead of the post-position draw on Wednesday, as many as nine horses who’ll start Saturday also participated in the premier race for 2-year-olds.
“When you look back at the race, it was a key,” Union Rags trainer Michael Matz said. “And, a lot of those horses have done well. I think this is a pretty competitive crop.”
The top five graded stakes earners are all from the 13-horse field that started at the Juvenile.
Hansen held off Union Rags, winning the 1 1/16th-mile race in 1:44.44. Creative Cause finished third, Dullahan was fourth and Take Charge Indy fifth. Optimizer, who needs one horse to pull out to be eligible for the Derby, was eighth while Alpha ended up 11th, Daddy Long Legs 12th and Prospective last.
Creative Cause galloped on Sunday after a slight delay because one of his shoes had slipped during transit, but regular exercise rider John Cisneros said the California colt was strong after the exercise.
“He was looking around and acted like ‘Hey, I remember this place,” Cisneros said. “That was good because it helped him relax.”
The Juvenile also helped solidify decisions on what horses would continue on the Kentucky Derby trail, something Prospective trainer Mark Casse saw even though his horse finished last that day.
“I think he’s developed well,” Casse said. “When this horse ran in the Juvenile, he only trained on dirt for about 10 days. So, when we thought, this winter we said, maybe we have a Derby horse, we took him right down and started training him on dirt.”
Prospective won the Tampa Bay Derby to vault him into the Kentucky Derby conversation, and Casse believes the conditions will be much different than that wet November day.
“It was a different track because of the rain. This track not only is affected by moisture, but by the heat,” Casse said. “This track, the hotter it gets, the firmer it gets and I think the better he’s going to like it. I heard the forecast is for 82 on Derby day, so it’ll be just fine with us.”
Conditions Sunday morning, though, were muddy after a violent storm swept through Louisville on Saturday night.
Trainer Bob Baffert sent his favored colt, Bodemeister, out for his last work Sunday morning and will send his other, Liaison, for his final preparation on Monday. Bodemeister is one of several contenders that either didn’t run at all as a 2-year-old or skipped the Juvenile.
“Part of what we want to do is try to have Derby horses and have horses ready for the spring of the year,” said Elliott Walden of WinStar Farms, which owns Gemologist. ‘Part of that is that we don’t over race them at 2, so typically, you know, you don’t see any of our juveniles come to hand in the Breeders’ Cup juvenile. We typically stay away from that race.”
Wood Memorial Stakes winner Gemologist, one of trainer Todd Pletcher’s two horses, is unbeaten in five starts. The bay colt breezed on a muddy track at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, as did Pletcher’s other horse, El Padrino.
“He’s been perfect his whole life, so we’re hoping to see more of what we’ve seen,” Pletcher said of Gemologist. “He’s had a really good time since the Wood. Everything’s gone smoothly with the exception of catching a little rain here the last few days. We’re very happy with him.”
The horse is also no stranger to Churchill Downs even though he skipped the bigger 2-year-old race, instead winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November.
Gemologist arrives on Tuesday.
“We typically use those races that are on Thanksgiving weekend as kind of a springboard to the 3-year-old year,” Walden said. “I think it’s important for a horse to almost wind down and then wind back up so by the time you do that you’re not making your first start until March.”
And while many contenders have experience in loaded races, the size of Saturday’s field can be the ultimate equalizer.
“With 20 horses, it’s a crapshoot anyway,” Baffert said. “You never know what’s going to happen. So it’s hard to get too excited yet.”