Tuesday, March 06, 2012
Guess who’s back?
This is why the road to the Derby isn’t a hundred yard dash but rather a 15-round prizefight. This dude, right here, dressed all in white, looks like Gandalf: Hansen. Just when Hansen was written off after his Holy Bull defeat, a one-turn mile, he visited the Big Apple for the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes; ran two tight turns, caught five-wide into the first turn, rated like it was going out of style, and turned for home to kick harder than Hilary Swank in Karate Kid 3.
Just like my buddy the honey badger, he’s pretty bad ass. Of course I just watched the video. I can’t help it. Rob, this guy I work with, all we do is quote the honey badger video. You can tell we have as superficial a relationship as possible. But, really, who needs friends when you have the honey badger? Exactly.
Back to Hansen, because, after all, this is a horse racing web site. Hansen’s Holy Bull was damned from the start as he stumbled was too keen to still press for the lead. He tired and suffered his first loss. People, myself included, wrote him off. How can this horse win the Derby?! He can’t even get the one-turn mile in sunny F.L.A. His Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win was chalked up to one great trip versus one bad one. He’s washed up. Then he did what any rational horse would do: he went out and ran gangbusters.
“He really took the step forward as far as maturing,” said jockey Ramon Dominguez. “He actually did it better than I expected – he was so relaxed. Coming to the three-eighths pole when he switched to his left lead and I got after him, he went on beautiful. He really did it as nice as I could expect. I was hoping that he could take the step forward, mind-wise, but he really took it further than I expected. Awesome. Galloped out like a freight train, too.”
The return of Union Rags to the winner’s circle in the Fountain of Youth energized the week of racing talk. The re-return of Hansen will further vault this class of sophomores forward. They were one-two back in November. Some won’t be so hasty as to launch Hansen to No. 2 on the their lists, but I will, at least for a week. Because that’s how things happen in this game—fates and seasons hang as delicately a dried rose petal.
Hansen, a racecaller’s dream with that white coat, learned a thing or two Saturday.
“Obviously, I didn’t like losing all that ground,” said trainer Mike Maker, “but of more concern to me was he didn’t leave the gate as quick as he normally has. But Ramon said it was no big deal, he settled nice and that’s what we were looking for. More impressive, he lost all that ground and wasn’t rank behind horses and settled.”
And isn’t that always the fear for the speedball? Should he not get his precious lead that he become rank with the dirt and the dust and the tugging at the bit for more rein. And those Gotham fractions were Derby-esque: 23.68, 47.51, and 1:11.79, and he just coasted off that like he’d done it all his life. Even more impressive, better than that, he didn’t lose his confidence after his first loss.
I don’t trust any prize fighter who hasn’t taken one in the teeth and failed to rebound, and Hansen did just that.
Brendan O'Meara can be found on Twitter and you can read his Mountain Home Magazine cover story about a real-life war horse.