Derby Fever: Great White Hope

I’ll never forget a family friend’s advice on the occasion of my first trip to the racetrack: “On a rainy day, bet the gray.” Bad tip? Not if Hansen’s on the card.

Last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile victor currently leads the Kentucky Derby field in graded stakes earnings, boasting $1,400,000. And when the Michael Maker-trained son of Tapit last ran in Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes (G III) in March, where rain soaked the track overnight, I tuned into TVG and took my friend’s advice.

To watch Hansen, whose pale shade of gray is an uncanny sight in a race for a 3-year-olds, was almost mesmerizing—especially since the other Gotham runners were all chestnuts or bays. Co-owner and breeder Dr. Kendall Hansen apparently even donned a “Great White Hope”-sloganed t-shirt for the occasion.

According to today’s profile in the New York Times: “Hansen’s attraction comes in the romantic, even mythical quality attached to horses of his color. George Washington and Napoleon rode white horses. Stories of unicorns and Pegasus fill children’s books.

“At the races there are railbirds who always wager on gray horses. Their progress is easy to follow in the course of a race, making binoculars unnecessary.”

Silly superstition? Ridiculous hype? I’ve always been partial to bays myself, but then Hansen romped in the Gotham and hopes to repeat the performance in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Saturday.

If he starts the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, just 25 days away, a whole new generation of gray-betting railbirds may be mystically, Napoleonically–justifiably–inspired.

Go Hansen.

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