Dr. Kendall Hansen has owned horses on and off for 30 years. Over that time, his stable has consisted mostly of what he calls “nice claimers.”
But years ago, with the hope that one day he would come across a star, Hansen began jotting down potential names and keeping them in a shoe box to be used on that special occasion.
This past summer, however, Hansen, who operates Intervention Pain Specialists in Crestview Hills, Ky, received a phone call from trainer Mike Maker suggesting a different course of action.
“Mike called me about a horse of mine who was about to make his first start,” said Hansen, referring to his eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Hansen. “The horse was going to make his debut in about a week and needed a name. Mike said if I was ever going to name a horse after myself, this was the one, but I thought that might be a little egotistical.”
So Hansen started the search for his shoe box.
“We had just moved and I couldn’t find it,” Hansen said. “Mike had told me the horse was training like an absolute superstar so my idea was to name him absolute superstar. But Mike thought the horse should have a short name, so I looked up Kendall and Hansen with the Jockey Club. It turns out the name Hansen hadn’t been used since 1978 which, of course, is the last year a horse won the Triple Crown. The rest is history.”
It was also during his phone call with Maker, that Dr. Hansen began to get excited about his soon-to-be namesake.
“If you know Mike, you know that he’s a man of few words,” Hansen said. “When I heard the words ‘absolute superstar’ it got my attention. Mike was around Cat Thief and Serena’s Song when they were 2-year-olds and he said he thought this horse could be in the same category as Serena’s Song. He told me he was pointing the horse to the Breeders’ Cup. When your trainer says he’s pointing your horse to the Breeders’ Cup before his first race, you have to think you have something good.”
According to Hansen, Maker also told him that his son of Tapit had incredible natural speed and was going to be a router.
“Therefore I was a little concerned when he debuted sprinting,” Hansen said. “I just wanted him to break cleanly. He ended up catching a flier coming out of the gate. After that race, I knew he’d win the Kentucky Cup Juvenile. Then it was on to the Breeders’ Cup.”
With his namesake entered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Dr. Hansen invited 60 family members and friends to Churchill Downs.
“Going into the race, I was confident,” Hansen said. “He’d trained on the dirt in the past so I thought he’d handle that. I just wasn’t sure if he’d be able to handle the class jump and control the pace.
“I was hoping for a fair start and anything over :47 for the half. When they put up :47 1/5, I thought we had a great chance. Ramon [jockey Dominguez] was able to get him to relax and then we just had to wait out the photo.”
Both human and equine Hansen came out on top in the photo.
“It was the best day of my life,” Hansen said. “The only bad thing about it was I was wearing my lucky underwear that I wore for the Kentucky Cup Juvenile and they had shrunk since then in the wash, so I had to walk around all day with underwear that was too tight.”
Adding to the thrill of the ride with his horse is the fact that Hansen the horse was bred by Hansen the doctor.
“Back in the day I owned a filly named Stormy Sunday,” Hansen said. “She was a claiming horse, but I thought she had stakes potential. Unfortunately, she has a bad ankle. I had dabbled in the breeding game before but there was something about Stormy Sunday so I decided to breed her to Tapit. This horse was the result.”
With the Breeders’ Cup now behind him, Dr. Hansen can sit back and think about the future for his undefeated colt.
“This horse has been such a dream,” Hansen said. “Right now, all I can think about is January 29 and the Holy Bull Stakes (G3). I’ve never been to Gulfstream Park before and we have a group of about 20 or 30 people set to make the trip.”
Another date on Hansen’s mind is January 16 – the night the 2011 Eclipse Awards are handed out.
“In my mind, we’ve already won,” said Hansen, whose namesake is a finalist for Champion 2-Year-Old. “We’re going to be involved in the six-month discussion leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Because the horse will be getting all of this recognition, I feel we’ve already won.”
“I can understand the conflict voters have with Union Rags getting a wide trip, but I think all you can do is settle it on the racetrack. That’s what races are run for. We had our share of disadvantages too. If speed and the rail were good that day, we might have won by five lengths.”
Whatever the result of the Eclipse Award voting, Dr. Hansen says he has his dream horse. And because of a lost shoe box, Hansen’s entire family is enjoying the ride.
“Many years ago, my grandfather owned a piece of the Detroit Tigers,” Hansen said. “The family name hasn’t been in the news since then. My whole family is getting involved with this horse. He’s the horse of a lifetime.”