Keeneland

John Clay: Dullahan's win deepens Derby mystery

Jockey Kent Desormeaux saluted Saturday's Keeneland record crowd after riding Dullahan to a 11/4-length victory over Toyota Blue Grass Stakes favorite Hansen.
Jockey Kent Desormeaux saluted Saturday's Keeneland record crowd after riding Dullahan to a 11/4-length victory over Toyota Blue Grass Stakes favorite Hansen. Herald-Leader

We have three weeks to sort this all out.

That's not nearly enough time.

Not for this Kentucky Derby. Not when every leading contender has something to like about him and something to hate about him all at the same time. Not when there figures to be 20 horses and 2,000 angles.

Saturday's $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes was but the most recent example.

It started with the pre-race controversy of Hansen's owner, Dr. Kendall Hansen, dying the tail of his near-white favorite, Hansen, blue, only to return it to its original color before the horse reached the gate.

It ended with a record crowd of 40,617 at Keeneland watching Hansen have his tail handed to him in the stretch by Dullahan, whose controversial jockey, Kent Desormeaux, rewarded the faith of his loyal connections.

A few minutes later, a few states away, Bodemeister ran away with the Arkansas Derby by an astonishing 91/2 lengths. Bodemeister is trained by Bob Baffert, he of the three Kentucky Derby victories and one recent heart attack. The horse is named for Baffert's son, Bode, who was named for the skier Bode Miller.

Add those to an ever-expanding list of horses that deserve your serious consideration come the first Saturday in May.

So lengthy is that particular roll call that Derby odds-maker Mike Battaglia predicted Saturday that the Churchill Downs post-time favorite could easily be 5-1.

Gemologist is a perfect five-for-five. He's trained by super trainer Todd Pletcher. He won the Wood Memorial last time out.

Both Pletcher and Wood winners have not had the best of Derby luck, however. The last three Wood winners didn't make it to the starting gate. Neither did Pletcher's last two Derby favorites — Eskendereya in 2010 and Uncle Mo in 2011.

I'll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby for trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam. Many believe, however, Creative Cause, the 9-10 favorite who was beaten by a nose that day, is still the best from the West.

Take Charge Indy was the surprise winner of the Florida Derby. That did little to take the attention from third-place finisher Union Rags, whom many equine experts argue is the most talented 3-year-old heading to Louisville.

Bodemeister was scary impressive Saturday at Oaklawn. Red flag: The son of Empire Maker has raced just four times, and not at all at age 2. Apollo was the last Derby winner to have not raced at 2. That was 1882.

Don't forget Went the Day Well. He won the Vinery Spiral Stakes at Turfway. He's trained by Graham Motion. Animal Kingdom, a Spiral Stakes winner, won last year's Derby. Motion trained Animal Kingdom. Trouble is, Went the Day Well sits on a precarious perch as far as Derby graded earnings are concerned.

Desormeaux knows about precarious positions. Two years ago, critics thought Desormeaux quit on Paddy O'Prado in the stretch, causing the horse to finish third in the Derby. A year later, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct after allegedly striking a peace officer at Saratoga.

Romans trained Paddy O'Prado. He trains Dullahan. Jerry Crawford, managing partner for Donegal Racing, owns Paddy O'Prado. Donegal owns Dullahan. Neither saw any reason to take Desormeaux down, and Saturday's result showed why.

"Kent rode him to perfection," Crawford said after the race. "That's a Hall of Fame ride from a Hall of Fame rider."

On the other hand, the last horse to run in the Blue Grass Stakes and then win the Kentucky Derby was Street Sense in 2007. Street Sense finished second in the Blue Grass. Three weeks later, he was the 9-2 favorite at the Kentucky Derby.

Could that possibly happen with Hansen?

"(The pace) was quicker than we wanted," said Hansen's trainer, Mike Maker. "But he was fresh today. The next one is the big one."

We have three weeks to sort that one out.

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