Confidence and competitiveness are two qualities Dr. Kendall Hansen, owner of the defending 2-year-old champion colt Hansen, is not lacking heading into the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
Since parlaying winnings from his first ever victory at the track into paying for his first year of medical school, the doctor fell in love with the racetrack and the sport of thoroughbred racing.
"I was throwing hundreds in the air and cranking Pablo Cruise on the radio after hitting a $1,600 daily double during my return trip from a St. Louis track," Hansen said in a phone interview from the Dominican Republic this week.
His brilliant white colt, whom he has dubbed "The Great White Hope," will attempt to become the second horse in 28 years to compete the Breeders' Cup Juvenile-Kentucky Derby double. That feat has only been achieved by Street Sense, who won the Juvenile in 2006 and the Derby in 2007.
The good doctor is not afraid to put his money where his mouth is either. Earlier this week he pledged to donate a percentage of his Derby winnings to two charitable tax-exempt organizations. ThoroFan, a racing fan-based organization, and New Vocations, a charity assisting retired race horses, will both benefit should Hansen fair well in the Run for the Roses.
"I can't think of two more important things in horse racing: No. 1, taking care of our horses after their racing career, and No. 2, getting more fans into the game," explained Dr. Hansen. "When you get a chance to take advantage of a horse that gets a lot of attention, and I don't think it's because of me and my craziness, I think he's popular because he's a gorgeous white horse that's just plain fast, you try and make an impact."
The colt's path to the Derby has taken him from Florida through New York and back to Kentucky, where he finished second behind Dullahan in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 14. Instead of running at Aqueduct in the Wood Memorial, after winning the Grade 3 Gotham there, he headed back to Keeneland to run Hansen in front of family and friends in Lexington. In hindsight the doctor has had some second thoughts about that decision.
"The trophy was a hell of a lot better for the Wood; I wanted that trophy and Grade 1 win bad. I wanted to beat Gemologist there. I feel bad in retrospect, I think we could have beat Alpha and Gemologist, but we'll just have to do that at the Derby now," said the confident owner.
Earlier this week, Ramon Dominguez announced he would ride Hansen over the Wood runner-up, Alpha.
Adding to the drama surrounding Hansen is the ongoing recovery of Dominguez's shoulder. The jockey was hurt in a spill at Aqueduct in mid-March, an injury that sidelined him for several weeks.
One benefit to being a pain medication specialist, Dr. Hansen was able to check out Dominguez prior to the Blue Grass.
"I treat shoulder pain, and it's in a lot better location than I thought. Originally I thought it was around the rotator cuff, but it's actually where it attaches to the sternum. It's pain free and does not affect his strength whatsoever."
The doctor has a lot of confidence in his horse and isn't afraid to provide bulletin board fodder for some of his rivals. When asked if he was concerned with the potential hot pace scenario with the entry of Trinniberg and the presence of Bodemeister on the front end, he was quick to dismiss both horses.
"Those are two horses we're confident we can beat, so of course we don't want to go chasing after them," Hansen said. "We're really not scared of anybody, if you can believe that."
The owner went on to discuss his ideal pace scenario on Derby day.
"If we run our race and we go out in 47 and three [or 48], nobody's going to be able to get us. There are a lot of doubters on that last eighth-mile but Hansen has not even been breathing hard after the last four races. We've had to pull him up because he wants to go around the track again."
Superstition happened to creep into our conversation several times as Hansen certainly thinks luck is a factor in winning the Derby. He mentioned the "Wood jinx" as one reason he skipped that race and he hopes to have a chance to select post 5 next Wednesday when the post position draw is conducted.
"I'd like gate 5 because it's my favorite number and we won the Breeders' Cup with it in November," Hansen said.
He referred to a conversation he had with his horse in the paddock prior to the Juvenile at Churchill Downs last fall.
"I was standing there while they were saddling him up and I whispered in his ear that he was going to get all the cutest fillies he can have if he wins this race! He looked me right in the eye and you saw how he ran," said the confident owner.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He posts every Friday on The Buffalo News Sports, Ink blog and can be found on Twitter (@EquiSpace).