In conjunction with Tom Hall's Throwback Thursday feature in BloodHorse Daily, which this week looks at Hansel selling in 1989 at the Keeneland September yearling sale; BloodHorse.com each Thursday will present corresponding race stories from the pages of the magazine. This week is a recap of the June 8, 1991 Belmont Stakes (G1) won by Hansel. The story, headlined "His Heart Got Him Home," was written by Edward L. Bowen and appeared in the June 15, 1991 issue of The Blood-Horse.
'His Heart Got Him Home'
In the final race of the Triple Crown, the Preakness winner held off the bid of the Derby winner
Jerry Bailey glanced over at Pat Day and quipped, "It's awful quiet up here."
Bailey and Day were two pros doing their jobs, sitting chilly on Hansel and Corporate Report, a pair of 3-year-olds which had finished first and second in the Preakness (G1). Now they were about a mile into the grueling climax of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (G1), and they were one-two.
It was time to float along, stay with the pace, save energy for what was to come. This was the easy part, but this part would lend importance to the next.
"It's deafening how quiet it is in front at that point," Bailey would later say, but the quiet moments are fleeting. A crowd of some 51,000 had sent them off with a roar—a quick release of tensions built—and that crowd soon would welcome them back in to the long stretch of Belmont Park.
They bent through the final curve. Hansel went clear of Corporate Report, but Scan and Mane Minister had crept up closer, while farther back, advancing inexorably, was a chestnut form which wears into history the roseate mantle of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner.
The time to float was over; now came the grind.
While Hansel and Bailey had been gliding smoothly through 10 of the 12 furlongs in a crisply paced Belmont, Chris Antley had endured a silence of his own, but a fretful one. Far, far back in last place, he had waited for Strike the Gold to say which it would be today--the looping charge that had carried him to his Derby and Blue Grass Stakes (G2) triumphs, or the ineffectual effort that had consigned himn to also-ran status in the Preakness.
"He dropped back after the start ... he won't run any different," Antley said later. "Down the backside, I was pleading with him, 'Come on Strike, hurry up and kick in.'"
Strike the Gold was 13 1/2 lengths back after a half-mile, having broken from the outside and being ridden with the intention of keeping him clear of traffic. At that point, 99-1 Another Review was still frustrating Day's hope to sneak clear on Corporate Report, and Bailey was closely monitoring the situation from third place.
With the 1 1/2-mile Belmont stakes more than halfway over, Strike the Gold decided the race should start, which is to say, in Antley's words, "he kicked in at the five-eighths pole on his own; mentally he does it on his own."
Thus was launched the bid that had carried him past much of the field on the outside by the time they turned for home. Strike the Gold was fifth, within five lengths of the lead. Bailey by then had Hansel in front, well out from the rail, in the middle of the track.
"When I gave him the cue at the three-eighths pole, he went on like a professional," Bailey said. "I gave him his head to do what he wanted, and although it might be a little premature in a 1 1/2-mile race, I believe it was the proper thing to do. He was running freely, and I thought it would take an awful strong kick from a horse to catch him."
From a similar situation three weeks earlier at Pimlico, Hansel had drawn right away, putting seven lengths between himself and the runner-up. Last summer, they had taken him to the winner's circle and treated him like a star after a dash of 5 1/2 furlongs. Now, he had run nearly twice that far, and still a quarter-mile remained out ahead.
The time to float was over. What was needed now was not youthful dash. What they were asking for now was courage!
Bailey began slapping him on the left flank. In the upper stretch, Hansel in changing leads took one awkward, fumbling step, but so much was the blood and heat of battle upon them that the rider said he did not notice, and clearly the race horse was not deterred. On and on he raced toward the wire, but on and on Strike the Gold came toward him on the outside.
Bailey continued to wield his stick on the left, and he would not allow himself to look back, lest any tiny break in his own rhythm steal a scintilla of forward progress from the horse. He did have to steer Hansel back to the left briefly when the colt tended to drift farther to the right, but as for witnessing the struggle he was involved in, Bailey let the shadow looming up from his right suffice.
"It wasn't the time to turn and look, but instinct told me it would be Strike the Gold if it was from the outside," he said. "I thought Green Alligator was the other horse that might be coming on, but I figured he would be on the inside."
Hansel was tired, his will battling with his body. Bailey likened it to playing any vigorous sport: "You know, when you are trying to be better, but your legs just won't move any faster. I could feel the effort Hansel was giving. The heart and the will were there, the legs were moving, but he couldn't go any faster. I want to win as badly as anyone else, but I was just so proud of how hard he was trying."
Strike the Gold, too, showed his heart, just as his sire, Alydar, had shown it while driving down the same gauntlet 13 years before. He was gaining with every stride. He had momentum, clear sailing, stamina, heart. What more would it take?
There was nothing for either colt to do but to lunge ahead—reach for one stride, then the next, then another, do not lose this race!
Finally, it was over. The photo finish flashed the moment into history, the 51,000 strained to determine the outcome. Bailey knew. Hansel had lasted. He had won by a head. The rider stood in the saddle, brandishing his whip in a salute of triumph.
"I really believe the last eighth of a mile, his heart got him home," Bailey would say of his trip.
"I wish it were 1 1/2 miles and four strides," Antley would say of his.
The final time of 2:28.10 was a bit slower than six of the last 10 runnings, but the clocking in this case seemed to underline the degree of courage shown by both Hansel and Strike the Gold.
Hansel toured through the Triple Crown better than any other, with two victories, and thus the $1 million Chrysler bonus for owner Joe Allbritton. His 10th-place finish as the favorite in the Derby still baffles his trainer, Frank Brothers, but viewed from another angle, his two classics bring into focus the importance of the decision to run him back in the Preakness.
Brothers, hobbled from an injury suffered when a horse kicked him, faced another decision in the weeks between the Preakness and Belmont. Since Hansel bled once earlier this year, Brothers had been racing hin on furosemide (Lasix), but the diuretic is not allowed in New York.
"I've monitored this horse all winter and spring," Brothers said. "It could have backfired for us, but as much work as I've done with this horse, I felt good about it."
While the high humidity and temperatures of several weeks ago had abated, Belmont Day was warm, potentially a factor with a bleeder.
"I thought about that as the day wore on," Brothers said, "but I had told Mr. Allbritton that you have to count on a hot and muggy day for the Belmont.
"I really felt good when they left the gate and got position. We didn't plan to put him up into the race. I wasn't going to come this far and change strategy. Jerry said he had perfect position, and the horse wanted to run. That's the important thing ...
"I'd love to tell you that I did something to turn him around after the Derby, but I really didn't change anything."
Allbritton termed the $1 million bonus, "a delicious thing to have, but it was not the end object of this exercise. The bonus was not on the top of my mid as they came down the stretch. I was thinking, "Does he have enough gas left in the tank to make the trip?' As we know now, he had just enough.
"The thrill of winning two classics exceeds the thrill of anything else I've done in business. It's the greatest thrill you could possibly have. You're not going to get rich in this business. You must be prepared to stay the course. If you win the Kentucky Derby with the first horse you own, then you should probably quit that day."
Insofar as having not won this year's Derby, Allbritton showed the realism and good humor of a sportsman well versed in the game: "On the first Saturday in May, people were saying, 'Weren't you depressed?' No, I wasn't. Just to be present was a great thrill for us. I wasn't depressed at all; we went out that night and celebrated. I never lost confidence in this horse at all. And even today, I'm not depressed to win the Belmont."
Asked if his involvement in racing, newspapers, real estate, banking, and insurance indicated that he preferred high-risk endeavors, Allbritton replied, "I'm a chairman of a bank in Washington, D.C., and I want you to know, that's risk, and it ain't that thrilling."
Brothers said Hansel would be returned to his summer base in Chicago, where he will be rested while the strategy for the rest of the campaign is developed.
The colt lost his right front shoe during the race, but did no damage.
Hansel (Woodman—Count on Bonnie, by Dancing Count) was purchased for $150,000 by Allbritton's Lazy Lane Farms at the 1989 Keeneland fall yearling sale. He was bred by Marvin (Junio) Little Jr., owner of Meadowlark Valley Farm near Paris, Ky., but was foaled in Virginia at Newstead Farm, which Little formerly managed.
Little sold a half-interest in Hansel for $50,000 during the spring of his yearling season to veterinarian Tom Van Meter, and they sold the horse at Keeneland. Van Meter is also a partner in Hansel's suckling full brother.
Nick Zito, trainer of Strike the Gold, said he would freshen the Derby winner briefly and aim next for the Haskell (G1) and Travers (G1) during the summer. Long-range plans include the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, and Zito said he will stable the colt at Keeneland during part of his later preparation.
"I don't believe in stopping on a horse," Zito said. "They are athletes. When you stop on them, they lose muscle tone."
Zito and owner B. Giles Brophy also were second in last year's Belmont, with Thirty Six Red. Strike the Gold races in Brophy's hot pink and blue colors; he is owned in partnership by Brophy, William J. Condren, and Joseph Cornacchia, and was listed in the Belmont program as property of B C C Gold Stable.
John Toffan's Mane Minister finished third in the Belmont and thus has the singular distinction of being third in all three Triple Crown events. He would have won the bonus had he been first in the Belmont.
Trainer Juan (Paco) Gonzalez will return the colt to California but is considering a return to the East for the Travers.
Anderson Fowler's Green Alligator, fourth in the Derby and not raced since then, was a dull 10th in the Belmont. Trainer Murray Johnson had him scoped afterward and discovered evidence of a low-grade infection.
"It's similar to severe bleeding, but instead of blood, it's mucous," Johnson said. He says the Haskell is likely a target for the Gate Dancer colt.
Dermot Weld flew Walter Haefner's Go and Go from Ireland last year and won the Belmont. This year, the same team tried for a repeat of that sporting adventure, with a Seattle Slew colt, Smooth Performance. The invader finished eighth, and Weld said he interpreted the result as indicating he did not stay sufficiently. The Belmont was Smooth Performance's first run on dirt, however, whereas Go and Go had raced on dirt twice before last year's classic.