March 01, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) -- By his own admission, Kendall Hansen has come up with a few oddball ideas in 30 years of owning racehorses.

His latest brainstorm created quite a stir: He wanted a blue horse.

Hansen is the majority owner of a Kentucky Derby hopeful named Hansen. He proposed dying his near-white colt's tail and mane blue, with a touch of yellow, to match his racing silks for Saturday's $400,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Hansen's blog posting last month quickly drew the ire of racing traditionalists citing bad taste and disrespect to the game. Others supported the owner's claim that a little horse coloring would be a good thing and generate more interest in the weeks leading to the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

Racing stewards in New York had the final word, though, and said there is "no sustaining merit to the request." They cited several reasons, including a need to protect the integrity of the sport, discourage other owners from making similar requests and contending "any newly approved equipment item or practice ... must not provide an unfair advantage."

Nonetheless, Hansen the horse will be in the starting gate at the Big A as the 6-5 favorite against 12 other 3-year-olds in the 1 1-16-mile Gotham. With a big effort, Hansen the owner says his striking son of Tapit could be back for the $750,000 Wood Memorial next month before heading to Churchill Downs for the Derby.

"Right now the focus is on Hansen putting in a good 3-year-old race," the owner said.

Hansen won all three of his starts last year, including a narrow victory over leading Derby contender Union Rags in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and was voted 2-year old male champion. He began this year by stumbling out of the gate, using his speed to take a lead before fading and finishing second in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, five lengths behind Algorithms.

"The Holy Bull was clearly a prep and a tightener for him," Hansen said, adding that trainer Michael Maker told him the colt was "only 75 percent" for the race. "He's 100 percent now and we'll get out of the gate in good order. It's going to take a Derby contender to stay close to us. The Gotham will be a good measuring stick for other owners and trainers."

Taking on Hansen are 5-1 second choice My Adonis, 8-1 third choice Dan and Sheila and long shots Stealcase, Finnegans Wake, Pretension, Maan, Suns Out Guns Out, Raconteur, King and Crusader, Side Road, Done Talking and Tiger Walk.

Hansen will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez, the nation's leading jockey, and will leave from the No. 12 post. My Adonis, with Elvis Trujillo aboard, drew the No. 1 post.

Maker told Dominguez that Hansen was a little too sharp for the Holy Bull, which may have been the reason the colt had trouble at the start.

"He (Maker) said all along, although he would have liked to win that race, it wasn't the ultimate goal," Dominguez said. "I'm pretty optimistic that with that race under him, he will be a little more settled."

The horse's name came at the suggestion of Maker. A few days before the horse was ready to run, the trainer called the owner.

"He told me if you were ever going to name a horse for yourself, this is the one," said Hansen, who operates a pain-management center in Crestview Hills, Ky. "Then he told me the horse was training like a superstar. That got me pretty excited. Over the years, I had a shoebox full of names I wrote down waiting for a really good horse, but we had just moved and I couldn't find the box.

"So I looked up Kendall and Hansen with The Jockey Club, and it turned out Hansen hadn't been used since 1978, and that was the last year a horse won the Triple Crown. So that was it, and it's been really great. My family is getting involved. We had 60 people at the Breeders' Cup and about 30 in Florida. We'll have plenty in New York, too."

Even though his horse-of-a-different-color proposal was rejected, Hansen is encouraged because people are still talking about it. And he may try again.

"It's been fun to banter back and forth, and fun hearing the comments for and against. It's been entertaining," he said. "Hawthorne Park in Illinois said they'd allow it if I donate part of the purse to charity, and that might be a way to do it in the future.

"Also, we want to get kids involved. They've been sending in letters and fan mail and though it's more mythical with them, like Pegasus and a unicorn, and if they saw a color on the horse it might perk them up."

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