It took a heroic effort on Dullahan's end to run down champion Hansen in the stretch of Saturday's Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. But according to trainer Dale Romans, one wouldn't know the son of Even the Score was recovering from one of the best races of his life Sunday morning.
"He looks great, he looks super," Romans said via cellphone. "He's acting like he hadn't even run."
Dullahan wasn't the only one feeling good in the aftermath of his 11/4-length triumph in the 11⁄8-mile Blue Grass. After being somewhat under the radar this winter, the colt closed like a bullet in the Keeneland stretch after nimbly darting between horses at the head of the lane to give Romans what he said might be his strongest hand ever heading into the Kentucky Derby.
The way Dullahan picked his way through the 13-horse Blue Grass field and accelerated when asked is the kind of move that most contenders would love to have in their arsenal three weeks from now. The question that will linger over Donegal Racing's colt until May 5, however, is how his turn of foot will translate on dirt.
Both of Dullahan's two career wins have come at Keeneland, including his triumph in the Grade I Dixiana Breeders' Futurity last October. He is winless in three starts over Churchill Downs' main track, but Romans said Dullahan's ability can carry him over any track.
"I think he can run on anything," Romans said. "I just don't think it matters to him.
"The thing I like about him going into the Derby is he has the quickness to get himself out of trouble that you need," Romans said. "If there's a hole for a fraction of a second, he can accelerate on through it ... and I think that's important in the 20-horse field of the Derby."
Romans said Dullahan would probably have just one breeze at Churchill before the Derby, with it likely coming the Saturday before the race.
Trainer Mike Maker said all was well with Hansen and third-place finisher Gung Ho on Sunday morning. Though Hansen got run down after carving out an opening half in :46.64, he still finished the final eighth in :12.70.
"We haven't lost any confidence and we're more encouraged by what (jockey) Ramon (Dominguez) had to say," Maker said. "Ramon felt even though he was setting fast fractions he was doing it the right way, he just got run down."
While Hansen is Kentucky Derby bound and Gung Ho could reappear in the Preakness, Team Valor's Howe Great is likely to return to the turf after running fifth in his Polytrack debut.
Though Howe Great didn't win Saturday, his effort ultimately helped the cause of stablemate Went the Day Well, who is sitting in the No. 20 position on the list of graded stakes earnings.
With Bodemeister rolling to victory in the $1 million Arkansas Derby, Howe Great could have put Went the Day Well on the Derby bubble had he won the Blue Grass and collected the $450,000 first-place check.
"I mean from that aspect it worked out pretty well," said Graham Motion, trainer of Howe Great and Went the Day Well. "I think (the Blue Grass) ran really true to form. Obviously my horse was a little bit of a disappointment but I put that down to him just not liking the Polytrack."