11/23/2011 3:06PM

Breeders' Cup winner Hansen's owner has luck on his side

Courtesy of Dr. Kendall Hansen
Hansen as a foal with dam Stormy Sunday, whom Kendall Hansen recently bought back for $10,000 − and a watch.

LEXINGTON, Ky. − Dr. Kendall Hansen is on good terms now with Lady Luck.

A former professional handicapper and now the breeder and co-owner of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Hansen, he knows that luck is not a given. His worst luck came when a 1995 barn fire at Ellis Park killed several of his runners. His best came just 21 days ago, when Hansen tightened up the 2-year-old division by beating divisional leader Union Rags by a head in the Juvenile. The good luck he owes to a broodmare who cost him $5,000 to claim in 2005 and then, after he gave her away last year, $10,000 and a Tommy Hilfiger watch to buy back.

The mare is Stormy Sunday, a 9-year-old bay daughter of Sir Cat who has produced both of the runners in Hansen’s two-horse racing string: the nearly white Hansen and his 3-year-old full brother, Tapanna, a bay.

“It’s funny, the highs and lows of this business,” said Hansen, who operates Interventional Pain Specialists in Crestview Hills, Ky. “But this is a good example of how someone with relatively little assets in this game can still have a lot of fun. I’ve got two horses in training now, and one of them is the probable 2-year-old Eclipse Award winner. Man, it’s crazy.”

The other horse in the stable looks pretty good, too. Tapanna, Hansen’s 3-year-old full brother, also is in training with Mike Maker. After four tries, Tapanna won his first race in September, beating Grigio, who went on to set a 1 1/16-mile track record next out at Keeneland.

“Mike thinks he’s probably going to be a stakes horse,” Hansen, 55, said. “But he’s not there yet.”

Hansen claimed Stormy Sunday for $5,000 in 2005, plucking her out of a Turfway maiden claiming race. He got a big payoff four months later.

“We jumped from maiden $5,000 at Turfway to $30,000 nonwinners of two at Churchill, and you’re going to get some really good odds when you do that,” he said.

Stormy Sunday won at 13-1, and Hansen said he cashed tickets worth about $124,000. Despite a bad ankle, Stormy Sunday won three of her four starts, all in minor races.

“She wouldn’t take crap off anybody,” he said of Stormy Sunday. “She wouldn’t let another horse get in front. She passed that on to Hansen.”

Kendall Hansen said he had never really wanted to go into Thoroughbred breeding.

“Some things are a little too big for your britches, you know?” he said. “Horse racing, to some degree, is a rich man’s sport. And I think the breeding side is so intricate and detailed, and you have to be so knowledgeable and be willing to accept losses as well as big gains. I wasn’t attracted to it, but there was something about Stormy Sunday. I just couldn’t let her go.”

That’s how he found himself sitting in front of a computer, sifting through nicking reports for a potential mate for Stormy Sunday, then living at Annice Johnston’s Land o’ Goshen Farm near Louisville, Ky. The choice was Tapit, whose fee was $12,500 for both years Hansen bred to him. Hansen liked the results, but it’s less clear whether Stormy Sunday agreed.

“When she had Tapanna, she was not a very good mom, and we had to protect Tapanna from her at times,” Hansen said. “She would bite him. Once, she kicked him, and it needed several stitches. She ran Tapanna into a fence one time, and Annice told me she thought she did it on purpose. She was a little bit better mother to Hansen, but I think it toughened them both up.”

When Hansen was a yearling, Kendall Hansen was going through tough times, too, and decided to cut his expenses. One was Stormy Sunday.

“I was going through a divorce, and business was challenging,” he said. “I did my tax report and realized, ‘Gee, I put $100,000 into the horses last year and didn’t really get much back.’ I had bred Stormy Sunday to Corinthian, a $30,000 stallion. I thought, ‘Kendall, you’d better get yourself on a budget. Maybe I’d better get out of this breeding thing.’ ”

Hansen asked trainer Dennis Bruce, who’d claimed Stormy Sunday for Hansen back in 2005, to find her a new home. Enter Curt Disbro.

A 40-year veteran of the Churchill Downs starting gate crew, Disbro saw his retirement years approaching and figured a fast mare such as Stormy Sunday could give him a foal he and his wife, Carol, could have some fun with at the races. It didn’t hurt that the mare was free. Disbro liked what he saw when he picked up Stormy Sunday from Land o’ Goshen that spring.

“She was a big, good-looking mare, and going home that day, I was well satisfied,” said Disbro, 61. He was even more satisfied when Tapanna made his debut this year and showed some talent.

“Then this gray horse came into the picture,” Disbro said.

Disbro, working the gate at the Churchill Downs Training Center, had gotten an eyeful of the impressive colt, standing by his head in the starting stalls.

“He was a little bear in the starting gate,” Disbro said. “He still is. He’s got his ways. You’ve got to be careful, because you’ve got to keep him off the back of the gate, and he’ll turn his head. You’ve got to be on guard at all times with him. One morning he threw his head into me and ripped my watch right off.”

On Sept. 9, Hansen won his debut over 5 1/2 furlongs at Turfway by 12 1/4 lengths. Mike Maker told Kendall Hansen he had something special in his equine namesake. “An absolute superstar,” he said.

“I kind of paid attention to that,” Hansen said.

Hansen offered Disbro $10,000 to get Stormy Sunday back. Disbro accepted and, as a joke, said Hansen owed him a watch, too. When Hansen brought the money, he brought four watches, and Disbro went for the Tommy Hilfiger.

“I guess I picked the lucky watch out,” Disbro said.

The next week, Hansen wired the Kentucky Cup Juvenile field, winning by 13 1/4 lengths. Kendall Hansen cashed in again, privately selling a minority interest to Sky Chai Racing.

When the colt went into the gate at the Breeders’ Cup, Hansen met up with his old friend Disbro in stall five. The watch stayed on this time.

Disbro said he has taken some ribbing for selling Stormy Sunday for $10,000, but, he points out, they hadn’t run the Kentucky Cup or the Breeders’ Cup at the time.

“A lot of people thought I was crazy when I sold the mare,” he said. “But he won at 5 1/2 furlongs and was moving up to 1 1/16 miles at Turfway, and that changes the game. They were offering money, and I took it, because I’m an old, poor country boy, and if the horse had gotten beat or run bad or something like that, it’d been a different story. So I took my shot.”

Under his agreement with Hansen, Disbro will keep Stormy Sunday until she foals her Act of War foal, and he will keep the foal. He hasn’t decided whether to sell or race it. That foal is due May 2, Derby week. By then, they hope, Disbro and both Hansens − horse and man − could well be reunited again at Churchill Downs.