With a race as brilliant as his Kentucky Derby effort was bad, Hansel gained a dramatic measure of redemption with a seven-length victory in the 116th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course yesterday. Ridden by Jerry Bailey, the 9-1 shot cruised to the front in the final turn of the 1 3/16-mile classic, then steadily pulled away to a stunninbg triumph over Corporate Report in 1 minute, 54 seconds.
Mane Minister rallied to be third in racing's second jewel of the Triple Crown, 2 3/4 lengths behind Corporate Report and a half-length ahead of Olympio.
Hansel paid $20.20 to win and was part of $74.40 exacta and $3,310.50 triple payoffs.
Strike the Gold, the 9-5 favorite off his Derby victory, never was a factor and finished sixth. It was a poor race for favorites: Olympio was the 2-1 second choice, and Best Pal, the 5-2 third choice, finished fifth.
The winning margin for Hansel, a major disappointment when 10th as the 5-2 favorite in the Derby 15 days ago, was the largest in the Preakness since Little Current won by seven lengths in 1974. The largest is 10 lengths, by Survivor in the first Preakness in 1873.
Hansel's win also marked the second-biggest reversal in recent history for a Preakness winner after a poor Derby effort. Five years ago, Snow Chief rebounded from an 11th-place Derby finish to win the Preakness.
Trainer Frank Brothers said he spent "many sleepless nights" mulling over the Derby loss and whether to ship Hansel from Brothers' Chicago-area training base, where the colt had been sent after the Derby.
On Tuesday, after a sharp workout at Arlington International Race course, Brothers and owner Joe L. Allbritton agreed to send the colt to Pimlico, making him the last runner to join the field and increasing its size to eight.
Brothers was at a loss to explain the Derby, in which Hansel had good position before fading in the stretch.
"I've run a lot of horses," said Brothers, a 44-year old Louisiana native and former protege of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg. "You often know why a horse runs good or bad. But there's that 10 to 20 percent, that gray area, that you just can't find what's wrong.
"This horse was an example. He just happened to show it in one of the most dramatic races in the world. After we took him back to Chicago, I checked him out. His legs were fine, his lungs were fine. I figured I owed it to the horse to bring him here. He belongs with the best, and it would have been a shame not to give him the chance to prove it."
Said a smiling Bailey to Brothers after entering the press box for interviews: "I waant to know why this horse ran so good today."
A subtle equipment change may have made a difference for Hansel, a son of the Mr. Prospector sire, Woodman, out of the Dancing Count mare, Count On Bonnie.
For the Preakness, the colt was fitted with a shadow roll, a piece of sheepskin that fits over a horse's nose. "To keep his head down," said Brothers. Asked whether it may have helped him run smoother, Brothers said, "No," although in the Derby, Hansel appeared to "climb," or have trouble hitting his proper stride while running with his head tilting to the sky.
For Strike the Gold, the 11 1/2-length defeat was well in the making by the time the field hit the half-mile pole. Jockey Chris Antley was uring the colt with intermittent whipping and a vigorous hand ride, but Strike the Gold, always on the rail, had none of the fire he showed at Churchill Downs.
"Being down on the inside, maybe he didn't like that today," said Antley. "When we got to running (in the last turn), it got a little tighter. I had traffic problems today."
However, it wasn't the biggest reason for the loss, he said. "He never got his mind to running," said Antley.
After a quarter-mile, Corporate Report had the lead on the rail, with Olympio and Hansel in closest pursuit. After Hansel had drawn clear in the final turn, Best Pal moved alongside Corporate Report (11-1) to challenge for second.
At that point, Corporate Report rallied back along the rail and easily outran the others for second. Mane Minster (18-1) rallied belatedly on the outside, passing Olympio and Best Pal for third in the final yards.
Whadjathink and Honor Grades, the race's longest shots, never threatened. They finished seventh and eighth, respectively.
Olympio, ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, had good position throughtout, then moved to the inside for the drive.
"I thought he would give me a little more kick at the end, but he just went even," said Delahoussaye.
The loss for Strike the Gold makes the 13th straight year that no horse will win the Triple Crown, which has been captured by 11 horses. The 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes in New York on June 8 is the final leg of the series.
Allbritton said the decision whether to take Hansel to the Belmont was up to Brothers. Asked whether he felt redeemed, Allbritton said: "Redemption was not an issue. In the horse business, there was many more lows than highs. If you see every loss as (failure), there would be a lot of time spent on redemption."
Hansel was one of five horses in the race to be treated with the anti-bleeding diuretic Lasix. In New York, Lasix is not permitted, but Brothers said Hansel "is not a bad bleeder at all: and probably would run.
Bailey, 33, won a Triple Crown event for the first time. He said he was confident of victory by the time the field was in the the first turn.
"He was the same Hansel I rode before," he said, referring to impressive wins in the Jim Beam and Lexington Stakes preceding the Derby. "I tried easing back behind two horses, but he got right up in the bridle. I thought I'd either be a fool for making the lead so early or it would be history. It was history.
"It's almost amazing that he's capable of that kind of effort. It's almost scary when he's doing that."
Under overcast skies and in cool temperatures, the Pimlico track was fast for yesterday's entire 11-race program. Hansel's 1:54 time tied him for the first-fastest winner in race history and wasthree-fifths off the stakes record set by Tank's Prospect in 1985.