American Runner Steve Roland Prefontaine once likened his running to a creative art form in saying, “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anything run like that before.’ It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. …It’s being creative.” Surely, winning is the goal in the running of a race. But, in some rare moments, the runner itself is a work of art.
When I think of a runner as an art form, Hansen paints a stunning visual portrait from any vantage point. At 5 1/2 furlongs, the whitish blur can turn his oval canvas into a majestic 12 1/4 length victory in his maiden debut. And, at a mile and sixteenth, Hansen can appear absolutely ethereal while claiming a 13 1/4 length win in the Bluegrass Cat Kentucky Cup at Turfway Park. Yet, perhaps he was in his finest glory clearing a near wire-to-wire victory in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It was more than just a race, it was his style: Hansen is simply beautiful when he runs a race.
“He’s a once in a lifetime horse,” said Dr. Kendall Hansen, who owns the undefeated two-year-old colt in a partnership with SkiChai Racing. And, as for his unique front-running style, Trainer Mike Maker has stated, “We don’t try to change him much, because if we do try, he gets mad and wants to fight. So we let him do his thing, make him believe he’s the boss.” However, if running is an art form, Hansen’s defiance may be a part of his creative genius.
There is something about watching Hansen run that captures some beautiful aspects of Thoroughbred racing.
Perhaps, a dimension of Hansen’s beauty is the reminder that money alone can’t buy a “once-in-a-lifetime” horse. They simply appear in places where that unwavering hope exists. And, where Hansen first “appeared” was when a $5,000 claiming horse named Stormy Sunday gave birth to a Tapit foal bred by Dr. Hansen himself. The colt never set foot in an auction ring in an attempt to garner millions of dollars in bids. There was simply a near-white colt, born to a seemingly common mare, that appeared one day in a place that could have been any foaling barn.
Yes, there is a beauty to that priceless aspect of Thoroughbred racing.
And, then there is a beauty that Hansen possesses when he is running his race, the way he sees fit. The sight of the near-white colt, racing in front, as if he is simply not subject to the will of anything but his own, is a visually stunning display of the unbridled spirit of a Thoroughbred. Sure, if running is a form of art, any attempt to change his style is a call to battle. An artist, in creating something beautiful, follows their vision. And, the vision that Hansen portrays is the raw beauty of a Thoroughbred in flight.
Yes, there is a beauty to that unbridled aspect of Thoroughbred racing.
And finally, there is an art in how Hansen conquers the critics who search for the limitations in his ability. After his maiden victory at 5 ½ furlongs, observers wondered if he would be able to produce such a flashy, front-running win at the longer distance of 1 1/16 miles in the Kentucky Gold Cup. And, when he answered his critics in a 13 ¼ length victory at that distance, the stakes simply grew higher. Hansen faced the issue of class – Could he win at that same distance against tougher contenders in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile? And, in a near wire-to-wire victory, the colt provided a beautiful answer to his critics last Saturday. Standing with the winning garland in the winner’s circle, Hansen had just delivered another masterpiece.
Yes, there is a beauty to the unknown aspect of Thoroughbred racing.
It appears that Hansen may be creating something beautiful when he runs, just as Prefontaine envisioned in his depiction as a runner as an artist. And, in his artistry, Hansen may be doing something beautiful for racing. He displays something that couldn’t be bought in a ring, bridled in spirit or conquered through critique.
Hansen, racing alone, embodies the art of being a Thoroughbred.