Eventual champions have gotten their start at Turfway Park over the years. And though the return of the WinStar Kentucky Cup Day of Champions generated a buzz Sept. 24, a performance on the racetrack that afternoon generated a bigger buzz.
How good is the 2-year-old colt Hansen? His connections hope to find out in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs.
“He’s the horse of a lifetime,” owner Kendall Hansen said after Hansen won the $100,000 Bluegrass Cat Kentucky Cup Juvenile at one mile by 13 1/4 lengths. “It’s a dream. I’m about ready to cry.”
The Kentucky homebred by Tapit had won his career debut Sept. 9 at Turfway at 5 1/2 furlongs by 12 1/4 lengths. Hansen and trainer Mike Maker had discussed waiting for the Oct. 9 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland, but opted for the Kentucky Cup race.
Hansen earned a BRIS Speed Figure of 94 in each of his two starts.
Hansen will train up to the Breeders’ Cup, but with no graded stakes earnings, he may need some help getting in. Maker said the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) on dirt is the objective.
Kendall Hansen, a Northern Kentucky pain management doctor, has had an interesting year with the horses. He gave away Hansen’s dam, Stormy Sunday, to a “good home” to be used as a pleasure horse, but had second thoughts when Hansen began training.
Also, Hansen’s full brother, the 3-year-old colt Taphanna, broke his maiden at Turfway Sept. 24 earlier on the program.
“I saw how good a horse (Hansen) was and got the mare back last week for $10,000 and a watch,” Hansen said. “I’ve only bred a few horses, and all of them are out of her.”
Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat, won her career debut at Turfway in February 2005 and was claimed by Hansen out of the maiden claimer for $5,000. She had two wins and a third in three more starts before being retired.
Hansen said he has a yearling by Corinthian out of Stormy Sunday. “I couldn’t afford Tapit after the first two,” he said with a laugh. “I got a little tight on money.”
Tapit, by Pulpit, stands at Gainesway Farm near Lexington. His 2011 fee was $80,000.
Hansen became a horse owner about 30 years ago and said he made a living betting horses at Turfway. He had a larger stable at one time but lost many of his horses in a 1990s barn fire at Ellis Park that wiped out the stable of Art Zeis.
“This business has its ups and downs,” Hansen said.
Hansen the horse has Hansen the man thinking big. Hansen said he expects there to be interest in the grey/roan colt, and that he would consider selling percentages.
“I have bills like everyone else,” Hansen said. “But this horse is just having fun right now. In his stall he’s like a puppy dog. After his first race he wasn’t even breathing. I think he has some gears he hasn’t shown yet.”
Victor Lebron, who has ridden Hansen both times, called him his potential "Derby horse." The jockey said the colt is "push-button" on the racetrack.
In the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Hansen was on cruise control. He reopened his lead on the far turn and was only mildly urged by Lebron in mid-stretch.
Kentucky Cup returned this year after a one-year hiatus brought about by financial difficulties. Its return was aided by sponsorship of WinStar Farm, which geared various promotions around the day.
“We really didn’t know what would happen,” Turfway president Bob Elliston said. “The quality of racing was super and the handle was good. WinStar joined us as partners to make it happen.
“As for the Juvenile, some top 2-year-olds have done pretty well here and gone onto bigger things, like Vindication, Point Given , and Editor's Note. I was reminded of that watching Hansen draw off by 13 lengths. It was nice to see; Doc Hansen has been a customer of ours for many years.”
WinStar president Elliott Walden said the central Kentucky farm and training facility viewed the Kentucky Cup sponsorship as a good fit. WinStar believed the event needed to return to the calendar, he said.
“We’re obviously very heavily invested in Kentucky and Kentucky racing,” Walden said, “and we want to see it thrive as a breeding state and a racing state. Turfway did a great job, and this is something we can build upon.
“We want to think of some other ideas to make it even bigger and better.”