HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Hansen has kept a pretty low profile throughout his brief but successful racing career, doing the majority of his training in the relative anonymity of the Trackside Training Center in Kentucky prior to his victory in the Breeders' Cup and under the cloak of darkness since arriving in south Florida last month.
But the spotlight will shine directly on Hansen when the reigning 2-year-old Eclipse Award champion launches his 3-year-old campaign Sunday at Gulfstream Park in the $400,000 Holy Bull. Hansen will take on just five rivals in the one-mile Holy Bull, including top contenders Algorithms and Consortium. Silver Max, Fort Loudon, and My Adonis round out the lineup.
The Grade 3 Holy Bull highlights an outstanding 11-race program that also includes the Grade 2 Forward Gal for 3-year-old fillies and a 1 1/16-mile entry-level allowance test for 3-year-olds, many of whom are using the race as a potential prep for the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26.
Post time for the Holy Bull has been set at 4:45 p.m.
Hansen won all three of his starts at 2, capping off his championship season with a game, wire-to-wire head decision over Union Rags in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. A son of Tapit, Hansen shipped locally in early December and has had five recorded workouts in preparation for the Holy Bull. Four of those works came well before dawn, the fifth ,and last, came shortly after the renovation break on Sunday, when he zipped five furlongs in 59.81 seconds but was tiring coming to the wire.
"Fortunately, we've had no bumps in the road since he's been in training here," said Mike Maker who trains Hansen for his breeder Dr. Kendall Hansen and Sky Chai Racing. "Naturally, we'll be disappointed if he doesn't win, you've just been crowned champion and don't want to let the voters down, but the Holy Bull is obviously not what we're pointing for. It's not our major goal."
Hansen has led from gate to wire in each of his three previous starts, although Maker is not totally committing Hansen to the lead in the Holy Bull. Ramon Dominguez, who was aboard Hansen for the first time in the Breeders' Cup, will have the mount again Sunday.
"I'll just leave it in Ramon's hands," Maker said. "If somebody else is hell bent for the lead, it's not my concern, we'll let them have it. I'm certainly not going to panic if he doesn't make the lead."
Neither Algorithms nor Consortium figure to be too far back stretching to a mile for the first time in the Holy Bull. They finished first and second, one length apart, in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance dash here Dec. 16.
Algorithms is unbeaten in two starts, both for trainer Todd Pletcher. The son of Bernardini also won his debut by more than five lengths last spring at Belmont Park. Algorithms will break from the outside post 6, with Hansen beginning in post 4 and Consortium from post 2.
"I'm very happy with our post, it kind of gives us the luxury of seeing how the race unfolds and what both Hansen and Consortium are doing early," Pletcher said. "I like the progression from six and one-half furlongs to a mile for him, and I don't expect him having any trouble with the distance. I'm hoping for a forward move off his last race and anticipating it will take a forward move to win this race."
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, on the other hand, was not as pleased with where Consortium, another son of Bernardini, will begin his Holy Bull journey.
"I'd love to swap posts with Todd," McLaughlin said. "I'd love to be on the outside, but we'll just have to deal with it. My colt is doing great and should improve off his last run, but so should Todd's and Hansen is the champion. A mile is a question mark, but I'm not too concerned with his pedigree. I just hope my horse will prove Sunday that he belongs on the Derby trail."
Consortium will have the advantage of racing on Lasix for the first time in the Holy Bull.
"He had a little tiny bit of blood in his mucus after his last race, and I do think he'll improve with Lasix," McLaughlin said.
Silver Max finally earned his elusive diploma in his 3-year-old debut after finishing second in each of his first five starts at 2. From the rail, he could give Hansen an early test returning to dirt for the first time since Oct. 1.
Like Hansen, Fort Loudon makes his first start since the Breeders' Cup. Fort Loudon, who swept Calder's Florida Stallion Stakes series at 2, finished seventh in the Juvenile after being trapped wide throughout.
My Adonis has not started since contesting a very fast pace and stopping badly in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot, but has been working bullets at Palm Meadows and also figures to be a pace factor.