Challenge: Idaho Invasion

The Hanson family has a team of top Challenge candidates.

Q-Racing Journal

Betrothen is preparing for the Merial Distaff Challenge Championship. PHOTO: Q-Racing Journal/Andrea Caudill

The Hanson team’s training program is a family affair, and this year the team has had a tremendous season in Challenge races. The family bring five contenders in to the five championship races, as well as several undercard runners. Dad Jim also won this year’s Challenge trainer year-end title, and regular rider Eddie Aceves won the Wrangler Jockey award.

All of their horses racing in the championship events are owned in whole or in part by the Hanson family’s RTM Stables of Pocatello, Idaho. Betrothen is wholly-owned by the family. James First Affair is owned in partnership with Larry Chapple and Robin Dunn. Pappas In The House is owned in partnership with Rob Evans. Sign Of Corona is owned in partnership with Carol McKinney. Ynot Walk is owned in partnership with George Weldon.

The family has experience winning on the Challenge’s biggest night. In 2013, son Ryan saddled JR Dynasty Mountain to win the $202,000 Adequan Derby Challenge Championship (G2), and Honoroso to win the $100,000 Red Cell Distance Challenge Championship (G1). Honoroso would go on to be the sport’s distance champion, and has since retired to a life of leisure in Idaho after last year’s Distance Challenge Championship and is doing well.

The Hansons arrived at Lone Star several months ago to allow the horses to acclimate and get used to Lone Star’s sandy loam surface, which is very different from the tracks the horses are accustomed to at Los Alamitos or the Idaho tracks.

“We’re just so excited to be here,” Mark Hanson said. “It’s something you work all year for, and to qualify one horse for the Challenge Championships is an honor, so to have all of these horses….”

Betrothen. PHOTO: Q-Racing Journal/Andrea Caudill

Betrothen (Merial Distaff Challenge Championship): While Betrothen has always shown talent, this Ricky and Melinda Overly-bred mare has really come into her own this year. As a freshman, the now-4-year-old daughter of Walk Thru Fire contested Grade 1 futurity trials, and in them outran the likes of Restricted Grade 2 winner Up For It, among others. In her sophomore year, she took on older mares in Merial Distaff regional races, but came up the barest of noses short of making it to the 2014 Challenge Championships. That, however, was a blessing in disguise as it gave her an opportunity to rest and return to dominate as an aged horse, where she has won four of five starts this year, including both the Merial Distaff Challenge regional races at Les Bois Park and at Sandy Downs. All told, she has won or placed in 10 of 15 starts in her career and earned $40,141.

“She’s pretty lightly raced, and I think she’s improving every out,” said Mark. “She had a nice work over the track, a strong work. She’s in top form, and I think if she can leave the gate she has a solid chance.”

James First Affair (Adequan Derby Challenge Championship): A stakes-winning son of Grade 1 winner Fancys First Affair, and a half-brother to Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity (G1) winner I Like The Odds ($911,606), James First Affair won the Bitterroot Derby and was second behind Ynot Walk in the Adequan Les Bois Derby Challenge. He drew into the race in place of the Mexico representative.

All told, the Ivory James colt has won or placed in 6-of-8 starts this year.

“He’s a solid horse,” Mark said. “He’s been training well, so with a little bit of luck, we hope he’ll do well, too.”

Pappas In The House (John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship): The Hansons started this gentle gelding by riding him out on the trails, crossing water and even playing with barrel and pole patterns.

“We started him like a riding horse,” said Michelle Hanson. “That makes it fun, to go out to the races and see him winning and remember him literally galloping on trails and swimming in the lake.”

Left: Pappas In The House (left) in his early training. PHOTO: Courtesy Michelle Hanson Right: Pappas In The House wins the John Deere Les Bois Juvenile Challenge. PHOTO: Q-Racing Journal/Andrea Caudill


When it was time to take him to the racetrack, the $20,000 purchase at the 2014 Heritage Place Yearling Sale proved himself as a race horse. The son of Pappasito leads the Juvenile nominees by money earned with $100,444 to date. His accomplishments so far include winning the $171,985 Bitterroot Futurity (R), followed by the John Deere Les Bois Juvenile Challenge. He contested a September 26 Dash For Cash Futurity (G1) trial, but lost his footing at the start and was fifth.

“It was something completely different than anything he’s ever been exposed to – racing under the lights, the track surface was a lot different than he was used to,” Mark recounted of the horse’s trial run. “He didn’t run horrible, he just didn’t run like he can.”

Pappas In The House has now had an out under the lights, as well as a solid :11.06 work over 220 yards on October 17.

 Sign Of Corona. PHOTO: Q-Racing Journal/Andrea Caudill

Sign Of Corona (Bank of America Challenge Championship): A little horse with a big heart, Sign Of Corona comes into the Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1) with two wins in his two most recent starts, and hasn’t been worse than second all year. The Coronas Fast Dash gelding was a $2,200 sale bargain for Jim’s wife, Susan, and has made $85,253 in his career. This is his second Challenge Championship, as he contested the Adequan Derby Challenge Championship (G3) last year.

“He’s gonna have to have all systems go to contend with the Bank of America Challenge Championship field,” Mark said. “But if he leaves the gate, I think he’s got a solid chance. He’s pretty professional.”

He has won his two most recent starts, including the Bank of America Les Bois Championship Challenge and a track-record setting effort in the Eastern Idaho State Fair Bonus Challenge.

“He’s been progressing very well this year, in my opinion it seems like he’s getting better and better with every start,” Mark added.

Ynot Walk returns after winning the Los Alamitos Winter Derby.
PHOTO: Scott Martinez

Ynot Walk (Adequan Derby Challenge Championship): The only Grade 1 winner in the Adequan Derby Challenge Championship (G3), Ynot Walk looks to continue what has already been a memorable career. The Hansons found the son of Walk Thru Fire, who is a half-brother to the dam of Grade 1 winner Quirky ($322,598), at the 2013 Los Alamitos Equine Sale, picking the yearling up for a bargain $22,000. The gelding was bred by Dr. Steve Burns.

They knew he was talented early, and saw him win the 2014 John Deere Los Alamitos Juvenile Challenge and then the Los Alamitos Two Million Juvenile Invitational (R). He then came home as the victorious race favorite in the $208,850 Los Alamitos Winter Derby (G1), his biggest win to date. He rested for a few months before starting right back to his winning ways, taking the Les Bois Bonus Challenge, and then the trial and final for the Adequan Les Bois Derby Challenge. In September, he ran an uncharacteristic eighth in his Dash For Cash Derby (G2) trial after struggling to get a hold of the track. But he has won or placed in 12 of 15 career starts and earned $159,890.

“His resume speaks for itself,” Mark said. “He’s the type of horse you dream about having. He’s really a pleasure to train.”

Ynot Walk also worked in mid-October, and will be using a different shoe to help him grip the track surface better.

The Bank of America Challenge Championships are November 7 at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. Stay tuned to complete coverage from the Q-Racing Journal at

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