CINCINNATI When Ryan Hanigan isn’t wearing his hockey-style mask behind home plate as a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds he likes to horse around.
The 31-year-old jockey-sized (in comparison to most baseball players) catcher is in the horse business, the owner one racehorse, seven breeding broodmares, three foals and two racers in training.
So, it’s time for an insider tip on who is going to win Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, right.
Without hesitation, Hanigan says, “Bodemeister.”
But he also acknowledges that the field is one of the strongest in many years and any one of a half dozen thoroughbreds could wear the roses.
When somebody mentioned that the white horse, Hanson, might be a little short on the distance, Hanigan smiled and said, “Well, we’ll see.
“There are a lot of good horses in this field and it’s a good race to not bet the favorites,” he said. “Bodemeister won so impressively in the last race (Arkansas Derby) he ran and he looks so good.”
On the same day the Kentucky Derby goes off, Hanigan will be in Pittsburgh with his Cincinnati Reds teammates, but he’ll have his ears cocked toward a race track.
And it won’t be Churchill Downs. They will be tuned to Arlington Park near Chicago, where his horse, Zahrah, will run a mile and a fourth, the same distance as the Derby.
“I got her as a yearling to be a broodmare, but I wanted to see if she had talent,” said Hanigan. “She won her last race at Tampa Bay Downs.
“Most of my business is breeding and I have a bunch of nice broodmares,” he said. “I have some really good breeding horses and I have some good matings coming up. And I have two nice foals on the ground right now.”
Hanigan, in fact, believes that his stock and the scheduled matings might some day lead to his own entry into the Kentucky Derby, something he dreams about almost as much as he dreams of a grand slam home run to win Game 7 of the World Series.
Hanigan’s stock is in Kentucky, all the brooadmares and foals, plus the horses in training.
How does a guy playing the national pastime who was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Andover, Mass., get into the sport of kings?
“Horse racing is big in this part of the country and I had a couple of friends who are real knowledgeable and have been in the business. They taught me a lot about the business,” he said. “I did a lot of research and history reading to understand pedigree. I have a good handle on it now, especially the paper work and business side, but I have professionals to help me in the other aspects. But I have a pretty good base on that part, too.”
Off the track and in the batter’s box things are looking up for Hanigan, too, after a, uh, slow break from the gate.
He began a series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday riding a career-best eight-game hitting streak (11-29, .379).
Behind the plate, he shares duties with rookie Devin Mesoraco. When Hanigan catches, the Reds are 10-3 with a 2.66 earned run average. When Mesoraco catches, the team is 1-8 with a 4.75 ERA.
It is a given that Hanigan is as sound behind the plate as a perfectly tuned engine and his situational hitting is a dead, solid, nearly perfect.
But then there was that slow break from the gate that has turned into a sprint to catch up.
“I’ve found my swing and I’ve found my tempo,” he said. “I found the rhythm in my swing and the way I load up my swing allows me to be on every pitch.”
During spring training and early in the season Hanigan wasn’t able to harness that successful swing, got away from the way he loads up before taking a swing.
“I was getting caught between, so I went back to my old load that I do and it allows me to be on the ball and be on time.”
Go back? Why did he change?
“I don’t know,” he said with a laugh. “You get away from things that work. I was looking at my video and saw it and said, Why am I not doing this any more?’ It is such a simple adjustment and it got me back into the right rhythm. A little thing, but it works.”
Spoken like a true horseman or baseball player.