In the nearly six months since he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, Hansen's reputation has spiked and fallen almost as often as his outspoken owner's nerves.
Even though Hansen received the Eclipse Award for champion juvenile male, it was Grade I winner Union Rags who was anointed the pro-tem leader of the sophomore division. And when Hansen lost his season debut in the Grade III Holy Bull, some all but wrote him off as a one-dimensional speedster who would be lucky to last the Kentucky Derby's 10-furlong distance.
However, one dazzling comeback victory later, and things seem to have cycled back around in Hansen's favor. When the son of Tapit enters the gate for Saturday's Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, he will again be the most highly regarded individual in a standout group.
For the first time since 2007, the reigning juvenile champion is gracing the Blue Grass Stakes with his presence. Like Street Sense before him, Hansen also was deemed the morning-line favorite for his final Kentucky Derby prep with odds-maker Mike Battaglia installing the colt as the 6-5 choice in Saturday's 11⁄8-mile race.
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Hansen will leave from post No. 4 in the 13-horse field with jockey Ramon Dominguez.
That Hansen was made such an overwhelming favorite over the likes of Grade I winner Dullahan and Grade III winner Howe Great — the co-second choices at 6-1 — speaks to the level of regard the gray beauty carries.
If his 5-length loss to Algorithms in the Holy Bull caused eyebrows to raise, Hansen's 3-length romp in the Grade III Gotham Stakes on March 12, in which he sat off the pace for the first time, had eyes popping for more positive reasons.
The way the colt relaxed under Dominguez showed he was capable of reserving his energy. While he didn't beat much that day, he finished like a horse who had a deeper reserve.
"I think it silenced like 90 percent of (the skeptics) because everyone was like, 'Oh my God, that's a big change from one race,'" said Dr. Kendall Hansen, breeder and co-owner of his namesake colt. "It's funny how things work out. I think that bad post position that day (No. 12) put him in a position to relax and work with Ramon.
"Ramon is kind of laid- back but he was so excited after that race he couldn't stop talking. He knew how important it was."
Though Hansen is making his first start at Keeneland, his ability to both control on the front end and handle a synthetic surface is causing some of his challengers to get their white flags ready.
Hansen won his first two career starts over Turfway's Polytrack by a combined 251/2 lengths and proved he had no issue shifting his ability onto dirt. Hansen's narrow victory over Union Rags in the Juvenile at Churchill has also grown in stature as seven of the 12 horses he beat that day have come back to win graded stakes this year.
"I think Hansen is the best horse of this crop," said Barry Irwin, founder of Team Valor International which owns Howe Great. "I don't think (Howe Great) can beat him to tell you the truth."
Dr. Hansen jokes that his colt's mettle can be partially traced to his "rough childhood." Stormy Sunday, dam of Hansen, practically rejected her first foal to the point that they considered putting Hansen with a nurse mare when he was born.
"She had one foal beforehand, the older brother, and she didn't want him to nurse and she would push him away," Dr. Hansen said. "So when Hansen was born, we were thinking we would have to get a nurse mare but she was better with Hansen. Still rough and a little ornery but she was a little more motherly. Maybe it toughened him up a little bit ... and now he's taking it out on everybody."
No Blue Grass Stakes winner has gone on to take the Kentucky Derby since Strike the Gold in 1991. With the way Hansen has progressed this year, his human connections are willing to risk carrying that piece of history with them in the coming weeks.
"I've never had a freaking tremor in my life, and a couple days ago there was a time where I had a little essential tremor here," said Dr. Hansen, a pain medicine specialist. "I'm like, oh my God, I've got adrenaline kicking in. I'm getting a little bit more jacked up every day — but it's really fun. It's a really good feeling."