Dr. Kendall Hansen, who owns the striking, nearly white champion horse named after himself, promises he will not dye his horse’s tail blue for the Kentucky Derby, like he notoriously did last month before the Blue Grass Stakes.
That does not mean the idiosyncratic owner won’t celebrate his horse’s run for the roses in his own special way on Saturday.
“I think I’ll keep it toned down for the derby. It’s such an emotional day, and I probably won’t feel much like joking around,” said Dr. Hansen, who operates Intervention Pain Specialists in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. “I have 200 guests coming. I have a skywriter lined up. No matter who wins the derby, whoever it is, they are a magical horse. We might type out the winner’s name in the sky at the trophy presentation, and we’re gonna party really hard afterward.”
Dr. Hansen insists his thwarted publicity stunt at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington last month was misunderstood, and within the rules of racing.
“The rule states you can’t alter the identity of a horse. It doesn’t say you can’t alter the appearance of a horse,” Dr. Hansen said. “It leaked out that we had dyed Hansen’s tail blue, and that the stewards were likely to scratch him if we brought him over with a blue tail. As it turned out, we talked to the stewards and they said they would not scratch him, but I couldn’t get that info to my trainer in time because of the bad cell reception at Keeneland.”
“It was supposed to be BBC-type stuff, ‘This crazy American guy with this white horse and a blue tail …’ It didn’t quite get to where I wanted it,” Dr. Hansen said. “Tradition is really good, and I respect the industry, but I think we need some characters in horse racing. The tail idea was my way of trying to tell people this horse is different. A lot of kids around the country are writing him, thinking he’s Pegasus.”
Before he owned horses, when he worked at a Ford plant back in the late 1970s and early 80s, Hansen supplemented his income by wagering at his home track Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky.
“People told me you couldn’t make a living betting horses – that it couldn’t be done. That was one of the reasons I did it,” Hansen said. “Plus I was having so much fun doing it. I’d have steak when I won, and I’d eat not such good food when I didn’t win. It motivated me.”
Hansen said he followed Turfway for weeks at a time, concentrating on the subtleties of the circuit to gain an edge at the betting windows.
“The track often would freeze at night and you’d have different variants (track speeds) from hour to hour. This was before speed figures were public,” Hansen said. “I probably, on a 10-race card, would bet about four races. My teacher taught me to only bet to win and to look for overlays. Try to find a horse you think has a 50/50 chance to win, but it’s 5-to-1. That’s the kind of horse I would put my money down on.”
Hansen said he paid for a car with cash and for about half a year of medical school before his student loans came through. He still bets, but mostly on weekends, or on his own horses making their career debuts – if his trainer indicates the horse has talent.
“There’s such a fine line between winning and losing when you are trying to make a living at it. You can’t make serious money unless you do it for weeks at a time and really concentrate,” Hansen said.
Dr. Hansen bought his first horse in the early 1980s, but he never had a horse remotely as good as Hansen. The year before Hansen made it to the races – 2010 – was the worst year for Dr. Hansen’s horse operation and he cut back.
He gave away Hansen’s dam Stormy Sunday because she had a cheap pedigree and had not produced a horse of quality. When Dr. Hansen saw how talented Hansen was, he bought her back for $10,000 and a watch.
Hansen won all three of his starts in 2011, the first two at Turfway, then the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. Out of a foal crop of more than 30,000, Hansen was voted champion two-year-old colt.
Dr. Hansen has pledged 1% of his Derby winnings to Thorofan, a non-profit that seeks to enrich the fan experience and grow horse racing’s patron base. He pledged another 1% to New Vocations racehorse adoption program.
“We need to get young people into horse racing and to get existing fans to remain interested,” Hansen said. “Secondly, finding occupations for retired racehorses is a challenge the industry needs to face. It’s a struggle I’ve had as an owner. I’ve had somewhere between 50-80 horses in my 30 years as an owner, and it’s always difficult to try to find them homes.”
Dr. Hansen, 56, was in a philosophical mood following the annual Derby trainers’ dinner Tuesday night in Louisville.
“Hansen has led me to contemplation about life – why did this happen?” he said. “I had never felt this kind of magnetism coming from a horse. I haven’t totally figured it out yet. It’s very interesting.
“More than any horse I’ve ever had, Hansen just loves to go to the racetrack. He goes bonkers when it’s time to go to the track. It’s just oozing out of him – ‘Get me to the racetrack. Get me to the racetrack.’ It’s fun to see him do his thing. He‘s a free runner when he’s out there.”
The tail-gate incident at Keeneland angered many horse racing traditionalists, but Dr. Hansen said he is not particularly worried about his public image.
“I don’t want to be viewed in any particular way. I don’t really care what the general public thinks about me, but horse racing is important to me,” Hansen said. “You want to have some respect from your peers. I don’t want to rub people the wrong way, but I also like living in the moment and being spontaneous. Try to have fun with it. Celebrate it.”
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