What better day to be foaled than Jan. 1? That actual birth date gives a thoroughbred a full 365 or 366 days to move toward maturity before the recognized birthday of all thoroughbreds in North America.
The snow white Hansen was foaled on Jan. 1, 2009. He isn’t very big, isn’t very tall or weighty. It’s a good thing he had a full year on this earth before turning one. And it’s a good thing he had three full years to mature because his competition for all things Triple Crown this year has been doing nearly as well as the “whiter shade of pale” Hansen.
His tale is white. His mane is white. And his smallish body is white. Not gray. Not roan. So white, the Lone Ranger or Hopalong Cassidy might hop on his back (instead of Silver or Topper) and ride off into the sunset.
Hansen’s sunset is still some years away if his owner has his way. And just by chance, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes winner has an owner named Dr. Kendall Hansen.
Where was the hand-wringing search for the thoroughbred’s name? Well, I’ll just name him after me, and we’ll go on about our business of winning races and getting to the Kentucky Derby.
Dr. Hansen hired Mike Maker to be Hansen’s trainer.
Maker didn’t hurry Hansen (the thoroughbred) along to the races. And he didn’t burden him with expectations or rivals with more experience. The white-coated Hansen was given his first-ever start at bucolic Turfway Park in northern Kentucky.
In a maiden special weight race at 5 1/2 furlongs, Hansen was wearing blinkers that made him look like an equine Lone Ranger. His first performance was near perfect. He broke well from the starting gate and moved crisply to a comfortable lead. He just kept on putting distance between himself and those behind him that were fading from sight. His margin of victory was chronicled at 13 lengths.
Just two weeks later, he was back at Turfway Park and running in the Kentucky Juvenile Cup. Even though he had raced only once and the distance was upped considerably to a mile-and-a-sixteenth, Hansen was made the favorite.
His deportment was exemplorary. Once again, he fled from the gate and made the lead. The longer distance did not give him any discomfort. When he flashed across the finish line, Hansen had won by 12 lengths.
The rest between his second race and the next try was longer than before. And owner Hansen and trainer Make both believed he was ready for much stiffer competition than he had seen at Turfway Park.
The threesome — two human beings and the compact white thoroughbred — stayed in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and went to Louisville for the early-November running of the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Lined up against Hansen were unbeaten Union Rags with trainer Michael Matz and the Californian, Creative Cause.
For the first time, Ramon Dominguez would be his rider.
Dominguez followed the pattern that had been imprinted from the first two races at Turfway Park. He hustled Hansen from the gate and sent him off to a lead that wasn’t pressured by any of the others for six furlongs.
How would Hansen respond if he received the fast-closing notice from any of the others that they could run alongside him?
He found the answer.
Rushing toward him came Union Rags and Creative Cause. Around the final bend and those two were almost even with him. For the first time in his short career, Hansen was seeing horses that could do a thing or two themselves.
Hansen was along the rail. He was not faltering.
Union Rags was alone in the middle of the track. On his own, he angled to the right as if tiring slightly. And finally, Creative Cause was between the two and carving yards off Hansen’s precarious lead.
Union Rags was eventually straightened and chopped off hunks of Hansen’s lead. Creative Cause was making up ground.
But the finish line found Hansen and his blinkers still in front of Union Rags by a nose with Creative Cause a length behind them.
Three races for the Jan. 1 birthday boy. Three wins.
Two-Year-Old Champion of the Year.
The pressure of being the winter favorite for the 2012 Kentucky Derby. What had the doctor created when he named the white streak after himself?
In their plans for the Kentucky Derby, Dr. Hansen and Maker have placed Hansen in two races this year. The first was a stumbling loss in the Holy Bull Stakes. He bobbled leaving the starting gate and then couldn’t outlast Algorithms at the wire. That was the first loss in his four races.
Just two weekends ago, Hansen was made the 4-5 favorite and cruised past a large field in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, winning by a comfortable three lengths.
A few not-too-tall obstacles confronted Hansen in the Gotham. He was outside in post 12 in a 13-horse field. Even with Dominguez shooing him quickly from the gate, he was impeded and kept four-wide through the first turn. Calmly and efficiently, Dominguez advanced him to second leaving the backstretch.
By the time the top of the stretch came into view, Hansen had replaced the pacesetter and continued on his way to a comfortable win.
He is a probable for the Wood Memorial, just in front of the real target in this mission — the Kentucky Derby. A slight possibility is the Vinery Stakes at Turfway Park on March 24.
Says Dr. Hansen: “We don’t have to run him again before the Kentucky Derby. We may make that decision . . . whatever is best for the horse. as long as everything stays on schedule, we’ll probably run him one more time. I think a mile and an eighth would be good for him to build up to the Derby’s mile and a quarter.”
Should Hansen keep his luck steered in the right direction and make the Kentucky Derby field, his backers will have no problem finding him. He’s as white as fresh paint on the backyard fence. And he’s likely to be near the lead if he’s not forced to break from way on the outside in the 20-horse field.
Whiter than grandma’s hair. And now the winner of four of his five races.