Saturday, November 26, 2011

Screaming for Hansen

The 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) was supposed to be all about Union Rags, but a certain silver “freak” changed that. In a thrilling stretch battle, Hansen defeated Union Rags by a head.
Photo by Mary Cage
Prior to the race, I felt that both colts and the eventual third place finisher, Creative Cause, all had the potential to be superstars. However, it was Union Rags that had my attention. Earlier on the card, I had met the colt’s trainer, Michael Matz, who is one of my favorite trainers in all of horse racing. I admire Michael Matz greatly, so I approached him and asked him for his autograph. Very kindly, he smiled and signed next to Union Rags’ name in my program. I wished him good luck before we parted ways.
It was Union Rags I was cheering for as the horses paraded in front of the grandstand before the Juvenile. As I stood by my seat as the horses approached the starting gate, a large group of people suddenly appeared and surrounded the area where my family and I were. They were dressed very nicely and the colors yellow and blue could be found in their outfits. I didn’t think much of it; I just figured they had come down closer to the rail to watch the race. As long as they didn’t impede my vision, I was fine with them being there.
As soon as the field broke from the gate, the group let out a deafening roar. My hands immediately went to my ears, but I dropped them a second later as I focused on the two-year-olds galloping past the grandstand for the first time. As Hansen took the lead, the group of people behind me grew loud again, their voices pounding in my ears. Throughout the entire clubhouse turn, the group screamed at the top of their lungs. They quieted down a bit when the horses reached the backstretch, though a murmur rippled over them. Hansen was still on the lead while Creative Cause sat off the frontrunners and Union Rags galloped along mid-pack.
“Is he still up front?” someone in the group asked.
“Yes,” another group member replied.

Photo by Mary Cage
That’s when I figured it out. They were wearing blue and yellow (the colors of Hansen’s silks), they screamed as Hansen took the lead, and they were talking about the horse up front. They either were big fans of the colt, they had bet a lot of money on him, or they were his connections. Maybe they were all three.
When the horses turned for home, the entire crowd at Churchill Downs grew noisy, but the group near me was absolutely deafening. As Union Rags closed on the outside and Hansen fought to keep the lead, the group’s cheering was earsplitting. It was quite conflicting to be standing there. The group was obviously rooting for Hansen, as was my mother, but I cheered on Union Rags, though a piece of me was pulling for Hansen as well. After all, I’d told the pizza man just a few days earlier to pick the colt.
The cluster of people groaned as Union Rags grew closer and they raised their voices even louder as the colts neared the finish line. When Union Rags and Hansen crossed the wire in a photo finish, the group began conversing nervously.
“I think he got caught.” someone said.
“No, I think he got it.” another argued.
“Hansen held on.” I murmured to my family.
I turned around, glancing at the group behind me. Some were smiling while others’ faces were pale with anxiousness. The woman closest to me was part of the latter.
“Who won?” she asked me.
“Hansen,” I replied.
Her eyes lit up. “Oh, I sure hope so. That’s my brother’s horse.”

Hansen entering the winner's circle
Photo: Terri Cage
Moments later, it was announced that Hansen was the winner. The group celebrated – loudly, of course – as they walked to the gate to the winner’s circle just a few feet away. I watched joyously as the group smiled with wide grins alongside the silver colt. Their bliss was infectious; I found myself beaming as they rejoiced in the winner’s enclosure under the Twin Spires.

The stirring stretch duel between Hansen and Union Rags was exactly what we need in horse racing. This could be the start of a great rivalry and if you throw in the likes of Creative Cause and many of the other two-year-olds of 2011, it looks to be a very talented crop. With very gifted colts going head to head as we approach the Triple Crown, the sport of kings could garner many new fans. Lively owners like Hansen’s connections and a class-act trainer like Michael Matz definitely don’t hurt either. As for me, I’ll never forget the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. My ringing ears won’t let me.

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