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This year the Kentucky Derby will have its own song-and-dance team. The hoofing will be done by the appropriately named Tap Shoes, winner of the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah. The singing will be done by one of the colt's owners, Arthur B. Hancock III. When he's not tending to his breeding farm near Paris, Ky., Hancock dabbles in country music. In fact, he is almost as excited about his first record album, to be released in June, as he is about Tap Shoes' chances of winning the Derby.
The name of the album, which was recorded at the Sound Emporium in Nashville, is A Horse of a Different Color, and Tap Shoes will be featured on the cover. Not that the album's 10 songs, all written and sung by Hancock, have anything to do with horses. They're mostly good ol' cheatin', drinkin', and lovin' songs with titles like Divorcee after Dawn and If It's All the Same to You, I'll Be Leaving in the Morning.
Hancock, 38, is from one of the oldest and wealthiest of the Bluegrass blueblood families. His father, the late A.B. (Bull) Hancock Jr., is remembered as perhaps the most influential breeder of all time. The elder Hancock acquired the splendid imported sires Princequillo and Nasrullah, and at the time of his death Claiborne Farm was the home of the great stallions Buckpasser, Herbager, Nijinski II and Round Table.
Arthur's love of horses came from his father, his love of music from his mother's side of the family. As a youngster, he often spent summers in Nashville with his maternal grandmother, who took him to see Hank Williams at the Grand Ole Opry.
" Williams was unbelievable," says Hancock. "I remember we sat next to three young girls who cried the entire day. When I heard he died [in a car accident], I cried all day."
Arthur attended Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, to be near the pickers and singers. In Nashville, too, he met an aspiring musician named Kris Kristofferson. Like Kristofferson, he began to write country songs.
In 1968 Hancock wrote and recorded a number called What of Tomorrow? which reached No. 1 briefly in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Greenville, S.C. The record sold about 15,000 copies, and Hancock appeared on television with Bobbie Gentry.
"By then I'd also gone to work for Daddy on the racetrack," Hancock says. "I knew that to make it in music, I'd have to give up the farm. On the other hand, I could still work on the farm and write music whenever I felt like it. So I chose the life of the horse business and farming."
As a college student, Arthur was known to have a taste for fast cars, pretty women and good times. His interest in country music added to his reputation as the maverick of the Hancock clan, and it came as no surprise that, a few months after his father's death, in 1972, Arthur left Claiborne and struck out on his own. Under the terms of the will, Claiborne was to be run by executors under the guidance of a panel of advisers. That was too confining for Arthur, who likes to do things his own way.
Hancock started with 100 leased acres and a few broodmares. Today his Stone Farm, which is just down the road from Claiborne, covers 2,500 acres and is the home of 10 stallions, including Cougar II, Hawaiian Sound and 1976 Kentucky Derby winner Bold Forbes.