By Dick Downey
Last year's Holy Bull Stakes victor became the Kentucky Derby favorite. Will this year's compact field yield an established favorite or an improving horse in the winner's circle on Sunday?
Dale Romans looks to see if Silver Max can make a dent in the Triple Crown Trail. O'Prado Again has had surgery, and as of this post Dullahan is MIA from the worktab since Jan. 14.
Silver Max, who breaks from the rail under Julien Leparoux, looks like a serious pace factor. After his dirt debut at Saratoga, Romans raced the son of Badge of Silver on turf five straight times, so he's hard to figure coming back on dirt. But one thing is clear. Silver Max tends to run on the lead.
Silver Max went into his most recent race seeking a win -- he'd finished second five times in five starts. Javier Castellano gunned him to the front, and after shaking off a challenge, they drew well clear.
Another pace factor could be My Adonis from the Kelly Breen barn. Under Elvis Trujillo, he dueled with Drill through a sub :46 half-mile in the Grade III Delta Jackpot. My Adonis, who'd been made 7-2 off a win in the Jean Lafitte for Kelly Breen, really trailed off. This was uncharacteristic of him, and he looks to rebound to his previous form. He'll leave the starting gate from post 3, just to the inside of Hansen. Trujillo returns.
Between Silver Max and Hansen in the 2 hole is Consortium, who only lost to Algorithms by a length at this track last time out. Both horses are by Bernardini.
Consortium, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, attended the early pace in that last race and was overtaken by Algorithms, but he settled back of the early pace in his debut win. John Velazquez will have to figure out a trip for Consortium, who is perfectly capable of winning the race. That may entail laying back and making a late run like Dialed In did last year. He came from ninth of nine after a half-mile timed in :46.24.
Not to overlook Fort Loudon, all he did last year was sweep the Florida Stallion Series for trainer Stanley Gold. But you have to wonder if his speed figures are going to improve. Others seem to have more room for improvement. One change is certain, however: Fort Loudon gets a new rider in Rajiv Maragh.
Hansen has never been headed, but it's hard to see him getting an easy lead in the Holy Bull. Regardless, Algorithms figures to run a patented Todd Pletcher-style stalking-to-Hansen's-outside race from the outside post 6. Assuming both of them get a good trip, it will become a matter of will to win and talent.
Hansen, who breaks from post 4 under Ramon Dominguez, clearly demonstrated that kind of will in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Trainer Mike Maker says there have been no bumps in the road in his training. Algorithms has upside potential and should have bettter odds.
An algorithm is a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps. Going this distance, which is one turn at Gulfstream Park, I like a talented horse with upside potential breaking from the outside post, especially in a short field. But he has to step up in this, his third career start.
It would not be shocking if Hansen wins, of course. I think he will shake off the early challenges. I am looking for Algorithms to wear him down in the late going, something Union Rags didn't get done in the Juvenile. Consortium could be reserved and running late, but on this track you usually don't want to be too far back.