Colorful colt leads West Virginia Derby field
Hansen's owner hopes everyone in the West Virginia Derby gets a good, long look at their colt's blue-tipped tail.
The speedy white 3-year-old, who will run with the tip of his tail dyed blue, is the 3-5 choice in a field of 10 for the $750,000 Grade 2 event on Saturday at Mountaineer Racetrack.
“We're just doing it for fun,” owner Dr. Kendall Hansen said, “and for some of Hansen's younger fans and people who think they are young.”
Hansen had wanted to previously run last year's juvenile champion with a dyed blue tail — the colt is nearly pure white — but stewards in New York and Kentucky denied the request. Hansen's tail was dyed blue prior to the Blue Grass Stakes at Kenneland Race Course, but the dye was removed when stewards indicated it could cause the colt to be scratched.
Finally, the officials in West Virginia said yes.
“I'm a little sad that we never got to pull it off,” Hansen said. “I think everybody wouldn't mind seeing it once, whether you like it or not.”
Gimmick aside, there is a lot at stake. An additional bonus of $150,000 will be paid to any horse with a Grade 1 victory that wins the West Virginia Derby. Because Hansen took the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, a victory would push his winning purse to close to $600,000, or what the winner earns in million dollar-races such as the Preakness, the Belmont and the Haskell Invitational.
Hansen's top challengers will be Long Branch runner-up Macho Macho (6-1), trained by three-time West Virginia Derby winner Steve Asmussen, and Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes winner Le Bernardin (6-1), trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
“We respect Hansen a lot, and we hope things go our way,” McLaughlin said. “If we get second or third money, we would take that and move along.”
In his most recent start, Hansen won the Grade 3 Iowa Derby by 10 lengths at odds of 1-9 on June 30. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, third in the '09 West Virginia Derby aboard Mine That Bird, replaces regular rider Ramon Dominguez, who has commitments at Saratoga.
Hansen is 0 for 2 at 1 1⁄8 mile or longer, including a ninth-place finish in this year's Kentucky Derby.
“We hope the sprinter (Bourbon Courage) goes with Hansen, and we lay third or fourth,” McLaughlin said. “If they hook up and it hurts their chances, we can pick up the pieces.”
Hansen admitted that “on paper” his horse shouldn't be able to get a 1¼ mile — the West Virginia Derby is 1 1⁄8 mile. Critics have said Hansen's connections are dodging the top 3-year-olds.
“It upsets me,” Hansen said. “But … do I want to run against Bodemeister and Paynter every month? No. But I want to run against them (eventually) to prove I'm better. We are picking our spots and doing what's best for the horse. By the end of it all, fans will see what he can do.”
The field includes an 0-for-8 maiden (Z Camelot); a son of Sharp Humor who's lost four in a row by a combined 48¾ lengths since winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at odds of 109-1 (Hero of Order), a son of Macho Uno who's 1 for 10 lifetime and lost to Hansen by 13½ lengths in his most recent start (Macho Bull) and an allowance winner from Belmont (Penn's Grant).
In light of such a watered-down field, Hansen's connections are using Saturday as a prep race for the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 25 at Saratoga.
“It is,” Hansen said, “somewhat of a workout for the Travers.”
John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7930.