The 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass serves as a major steppingstone for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1). A total of 19 horses that ran in the Toyota Blue Grass went on to win the Kentucky Derby, with Street Sense in 2007 the most recent.
Temperatures are expected to be in the mid 70s on Saturday.
Hansen will be the first juvenile champion to run in the Toyota Blue Grass since Street Sense, who ran second here before winning the Kentucky Derby in his next start.
Trained by Mike Maker, Hansen returns to the Polytrack surface for the first time since winning the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park in September in his second start.
Following that victory, Hansen won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs to close his 2011 campaign.
Hansen finished second in his 2012 debut in the slop at Gulfstream Park on January 29 in the Holy Bull, but rebounded to win the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct on March 3 in his most recent start.
Keeneland morning-line maker Mike Battaglia has installed Hansen as the 6-5 morning line favorite for the race. Ramon Dominguez, who has been aboard for Hansen’s past three races, has the assignment Saturday in his quest for a first victory in the Toyota Blue Grass. Hansen will break from post position four.
Maker is seeking his second Toyota Blue Grass victory, having saddled Stately Victor to win the race in 2010. Last year, Maker sent out Twinspired, who finished second, beaten a nose, by Brilliant Speed. Maker also will send out Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Gung Ho in Saturday’s race.
Co-second choices on the morning line at 6-1 are Donegal Racing’s Dullahan, trained by Dale Romans, and Team Valor International’s Howe Great, trained by Graham Motion.
A half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, Dullahan has won one of seven career starts with that victory coming in last fall’s Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland.
Dullahan closed 2011 with a fourth-place finish behind Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and in his lone start of 2012 finished second behind Howe Great in the Palm Beach (G3) on the turf at Gulfstream Park.
Kent Desormeaux, seeking his first Toyota Blue Grass victory, will ride Dullahan, who will break from post position six.
Howe Great, a winner of four of five career starts, will break from post position 10 under Javier Castellano. In addition to his victory in the Palm Beach, Howe Great opened his 2012 campaign with a front-running victory in the Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream Park.
Fourth choice on the line at 10-1 is John Oxley’s Prospective.
Trained by Mark Casse, Prospective enters the Toyota Blue Grass off a victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 10. Undefeated in two starts on Polytrack, Prospective will break from post position three and be ridden by Luis Contreras, who is riding in his first Toyota Blue Grass.
The most experienced runner in the field is Raut LLC’s Hero of Order, who will be making his 15th start. Start No. 14 shook up the Triple Crown trail on April 1 when he won the Louisiana Derby (G2) at odds of 109-1.
Eddie Martin Jr., who was aboard for that victory, will ride Saturday and exit post position 12 on Hero of Order, who is 12-1 on the morning line.
Hero of Order will be one of two runners in the race for trainer Gennadi Dorochenko. Dorochenko also will send out Russian Greek for Olympia Star Inc. Miguel Mena will ride Russian Greek, 50-1 on the morning line, who drew post position five.
In addition to Maker, two trainers will be trying to secure multiple victories in the race.
Two-time winner Todd Pletcher (Bandini in 2005 and Monba in 2008) will send out Starlight Partners’ Heavy Breathing. A 12-1 shot in the line, Heavy Breathing will break from post position one under Corey Lanerie.
Bob Baffert saddled Sinister Minister to win the Toyota Blue Grass in 2006. He is back this year with Arnold Zetcher’s Midnight Crooner. Garrett Gomez, who was aboard Sinister Minister for his Toyota Blue Grass triumph, has the call on Midnight Crooner, who will exit post position eight. Midnight Crooner is 15-1 on the morning line.
In addition to Gomez, two other riders will be trying to pad their Toyota Blue Grass resumes.
Edgar Prado, who rides Gung Ho, has won the race three times (Harlan’s Holiday in 2002, Peace Rules in 2003 and with Monba) and Joel Rosario, who rides Holy Candy for the Craig Stables and Donkey Island Racing, won the race last year on Brilliant Speed.
Should Rosario win the Toyota Blue Grass in consecutive years, it would match a feat accomplished six times by five riders. In addition to Prado, other riders to win in consecutive years are Bill Shoemaker twice (Tomy Lee, 1959 and Tompion, 1960, plus Lucky Debonair, 1965 and Abe’s Hope, 1966); Eddie Arcaro (Correspondent, 1953 and Goyamo 1954); Shane Sellers (Skip Away 1996 and Pulpit 1997) and Mike Smith (Prairie Bayou, 1993 and Holy Bull, 1994).
The complete field for the Toyota Blue Grass with morning line odds from the rail out is as follows: Heavy Breathing (Lanerie, 12-1), Gung Ho (Prado, 30-1), Prospective (Contreras, 10-1), Hansen (Dominguez, 6-5), Russian Greek (Mena, 50-1), Dullahan (Desormeaux, 6-1), Politicallycorrect (Elvis Trujillo, 30-1), Midnight Crooner (Gomez, 15-1), Holy Candy (Rosario, 30-1), Howe Great (Castellano, 6-1), Ever So Lucky (Julien Leparoux, 12-1), Hero of Order (Martin Jr., 12-1) and Scatman (Shaun Bridgmohan, 12-1). All starters will carry 123 pounds.
Six horses in the Toyota Blue Grass field – Dullahan, Ever So Lucky, Heavy Breathing, Hero of Order, Russian Greek and Scatman – are graduates of the Keeneland sales.