Decisions, decisions: What a Hansel


May 19, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

For those of you indecisive types -- and you know who you are, some of the time anyway -- let me introduce you to Frank Brothers, a new role model.

Once up a time, he couldn't make up his mind either.

Well, that's not exactly true. He'd make up his mind, then he'd change it. Then he'd change it back. Then he'd change it again.

He'd lie awake at nights while the two halves of his brain played ping-pong inside his head. You try to sleep through that racket. ++ Brothers couldn't.

Brothers knew this: He had a horse named Hansel who went off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby -- the biggest race of them all -- and finished 10th. Time didn't stand still that day, but his horse did. You could pick him out. He was the one who looked as if he were auditioning for "Chariots of Fire.". After watching Hansel lose, Frankie was definitely a Brothers grim.

What Brothers didn't know was why Hansel had performed so poorly. And until he knew that, he couldn't decide whether or not to send the horse to the Preakness.

The decision seems obvious now. Now that Hansel had won going away yesterday, winning by seven lengths, redeeming himself and casting aspersions anew on Derby winner Strike the Gold, who finished a very uninspired sixth.

Now, we know, Hansel should have come and he did, although he didn't make it until Wednesday and not without a 14-hour van ride from Chicago. You have to love Brothers as a horse man, but you do not want him as a travel agent.

"I thought of 100 reasons to come, and I thought of 100 reasons not to come," Brothers said. "I went back and forth, with a lot of sleepness nights.

"Finally, we decided to go for the gusto, instead of backdooring it."

When the horse worked last week, he looked the way he'd always looked. He trained the way he'd always trained. Brothers even rode him himself, a 165-pound exercise boy, just to see if he could sense a problem, but the horse acted as if it had never been run over in the Derby.

But the decision didn't belong to Brothers alone, Brothers is a trainer, meaning he works for somebody very rich who gets to make the final decisions. In this instance, it was Joe L. Allbritton, who was sitting anxiously by the phone Tuesday, awaiting some word.

It wasn't exactly a call from the governor, but it was reprieve. It was new life.

And, mostly, it was a weight off Frank Brothers' shoulders. Brothers took a deep breath and then told Allbritton he didn't see why Hansel shouldn't make the trip.

"I said, 'Let me call you back in 10 minutes.'" Allbritton was saying. "It was clocked in eight minutes, but it was like an hour and a half in feeling time."

Feelings? Nothing more than feelings?

It was a feeling. It was a little bit of a risk. It was bold.

It was exactly right.

It was an incredible high following an incredible low. In other words, it was horse racing.

We've seen this before. In 1986, Snow Chief finished 11th in the Derby and then came back to win the Preakness. But Hansel did more than come back. Hansel blew past everyone in the field. The last time anyone won this race by as many as seven lengths was Little Current in 1974, and the 80,000-plus fans looked on, many of them slack-jawed.

What happened in this race? The three top-heavy favorites went 4-5-6. If you bet two dollars on Hansel and runner-up Corporate Report in an exacta, you'd have won $212.20.

Hansel blew past Olympio, the so-called fresh horse. He blew past Best Pal. And nearly everyone blew past Strike the Gold, whose trainer, Nick Zito, had said earlier in the week that Hansel was a horse to watch.

"You know who's going to come up big Saturday -- Hansel," he said. "You'll see. But he still has to get past the Derby champion."

Of course, it was also Zito who said: "Two things you should'nt discredit -- Strike the Gold and the man upstairs."

The man upstairs came through unscathed anyway, although a lot of angry bettors might have thought differently.

So, now Hansel, his reputation re-established, heads for the Belmont in three weeks. Right?



Brothers wasn't saying. Allbritton wasn't saying.

It's decision time again. You make the call.

The problem is that Hansel is a bleeder who uses Lasix, an anti-bleeding diuretic, which is banned in New York. Meaning Hansel would have to run without the stuff.

Will he?

You bet he will. This time, they've got a no-brainer on their hands. If the horse came through this race all right, he'll be in New York for the million-dollar Triple Crown bonus and because it's the Belmont and because of history.

And because Hansel, we found out yesterday, is not a horse to settle for crumbs.

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