As Dr. Kendall Hansen made his way to the barn area following Gulfstream Park's Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 29, the co-owner of the freshly defeated juvenile champion was surprised to discover neither he nor his trainer was the most visibly upset individual in the wake of that race's results.
"I went to see him that night and he was crazy," Hansen said of his namesake colt who had just suffered his first career loss. "It's the most hyper we had ever seen him. He wouldn't stop moving, he was biting everybody in sight, he was angry.
"It was almost like he knew what happened and was angry about it."
Just imagine what his mood would have been like had Hansen — the horse — had an inkling of what was being said about him, that his one-dimensional speedster ways would ruin any hopes of being a true Kentucky Derby threat.
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In Saturday's Grade III $400,000 Gotham Stakes, the son of Tapit will have a chance to show that as fiery as his talents are, he is still capable of harnessing them in a productive manner.
Redemption may be too strong a word to use on a horse with one blemish on his résumé but it is safe to say Hansen has something to prove when he breaks from post No. 12 against a dozen others in the 11⁄16-mile Gotham at Aqueduct.
Thirteen days after he was named the 2011 champion 2-year-old male following a 3-for-3 campaign that culminated with a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Hansen's reputation took a hit when he finished second, beaten five lengths by Algorithms in the 1-mile Holy Bull.
It wasn't so much that he lost but how Hansen was defeated that caused skeptics to surface. Though his front-running ability barely allowed him to be headed during his juvenile year, the stunning gray colt failed to relax in the Holy Bull after stumbling at the start and gave way with little resistance to Algorithms.
Since changing Hansen's style is pretty futile, trainer Mike Maker has taken the blinkers off him for the Gotham and given him targets in his morning works in hopes he will be less eager this time out.
"First of all, I feel like I'm lucky to have had a wagon that people were actually on that they were able to jump off," laughed Dr. Hansen, who bred and co-owns the colt along with Sky Chai Racing. "But Mike has been around three Derby horses (as an assistant) closely and he has no question this is a Derby distance horse.
"Since the Breeders' Cup, I count four workouts where Mike's either dropped a horse in front of (Hansen) or he's just caught up to horses ... so he's fine with just tracking. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind if after a quarter mile somebody does come up alongside him and he lets a horse go by for a while ... but you can't plan that somebody might be crazy enough to go out with us."
Though the Grade II Fountain of Youth was initially Hansen's target following the Holy Bull, the Gotham may be a more ideal spot for him to regain his rhythm. Instead of having to face Grade I winner and Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Union Rags — who galloped off with the Fountain of Youth — Hansen stands as the only graded stakes winner in the Gotham field.
Still, the volume of horses lined up to face Hansen suggest others think he may still be vulnerable.
"He was only beaten a half-length to the juvenile champion in his last race," trainer Kelly Breen said of his Gotham entrant My Adonis, third last time out in the Holy Bull. "We're hoping for another good effort from him."
With rain in the area forecast, Hansen could catch another wet track Saturday as he did in the Holy Bull. While his connections staunchly defend his talents, they concede there should be no need for excuses if Hansen simply acts like his old self.
"He has to finish strong Saturday but if we're on our "A" game, we're not supposed to have a problem," Dr. Hansen said. "But I like that there is a little bit of I-told-you-so type stuff that we'll be able to do. We were the underdog going into the Breeders' Cup and that was perfect, so I don't mind being the underdog to Union Rags again along the way."