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Vanishing Point
Richard Hoffer
October 25, 1993
Could the baffling disappearance of fast-living jockey Ron Hansen be the ultimate high-stakes game ?
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October 25, 1993

Vanishing Point

Could the baffling disappearance of fast-living jockey Ron Hansen be the ultimate high-stakes game ?

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One track official disputes this. "There hasn't been anyone suspicious in there in 25 years—it's just us [people from the track]." Anyway, he says, any story that begins with Hansen drinking Cokes is automatically suspect.

Police and other press reports say that after he had been at the Hillsdale Inn, Hansen called his wife, Renee, and told her he would be staying at a friend's apartment across the street from the Hillsdale Inn. This was not uncommon on Friday nights, since he was often due at the track for early workouts on Saturday mornings. Indeed, Hansen's agent, Wayne McDonnell, who lives near the track, says Hansen has crashed on his couch plenty of times.

In fact Hansen did drop by McDonnell's place that night—possibly on his way from The Van's to the Hillsdale Inn—around 1:30 a.m., according to the agent. "It was like he was just checking on me," says McDonnell, who was groggy from sleep and remembers seeing Hansen for "about 10 seconds" before the jockey was on his way. According to Billy Cambra, an outrider at Bay Meadows who is a friend of Hansen's, he and Hansen went to yet another friend's apartment, from which Hansen left at about 2 a.m., supposedly to move his car to a proper parking space.

At that point the chronology yields to mystery. At 2:30 a.m. Hansen's 1990 Jaguar XJS reached speeds as high as 100 mph, according to California Highway Patrol reports, as it crossed the San Mateo Bridge, heading east, presumably toward his home in Alameda. Switching lanes, the Jaguar struck a Toyota, which crashed into the concrete bridge siding and flipped over. Hansen's car was recovered farther east on the bridge, a mile from the scene of the wreck, its hazard lights blinking, its keys gone, its driver's seat drawn up close to the steering wheel. Hansen's wallet was in the glove compartment. A witness saw a man walking toward the east end of the bridge, about three quarters of a mile from the abandoned Jaguar.

Hansen did not show up at the track the next day, which was thought odd, since he was scheduled to ride Slew of Damascus, the 5-2 second choice in the day's feature, the $200,000 Bay Meadows Handicap. Hansen was well known as a high-octane reveler, even after his marriage and the birth of his son, Blake, two years ago. At 33 he was no longer the kid who used to challenge himself with all-nighters, but he was still a marvel of performance on the racetrack. Friday night's carousing was not sufficient to make friends doubt his boast in The Van's that he would ride Slew of Damascus "coast to coast."

Slew of Damascus did indeed win the feature, and his new rider took home the jockey's $11,000 share of the purse. On Sunday the Bay Area papers—which had their hands full with the kidnapping of a 12-year-old girl in Petaluma, 35 miles north of San Francisco—managed a small item that said the victims of the crash involving Hansen's car were largely unharmed. That might have coaxed the jockey to come forward, if he was hiding out. But the mystery only deepened.

"Ron's done a few things and been pretty sly about getting away with them," says Ron Warren. "At first I figured this was just another deal he'd get out of. Now I don't know."

Getting in and out of things was Hansen's genius. In 1990 Golden Gate Fields banned him amid allegations of race fixing, evidence that he had associated with a convicted embezzler (Hansen made good on $28,000 worth of the fellow's bad checks) and rumors that he had tics to a Dominican gambling syndicate. The race-fixing allegations came soon after Las Vegas casinos reported being stung for some $500,000 on Bay Meadows races. Doug Schrick, another jockey under investigation for race fixing, said that Hansen had tried to bribe him, telling him that if Schrick cooperated in rigging a race, the two of them could "cash a big ticket."

Hansen persuaded California racing officials that the allegations had been fabricated by Schrick, whose girlfriend Hansen had stolen, and Hansen was cleared. Schrick was suspended for 10 years for bribing jockeys in other races.

Also in 1990 Golden Gate officials got an anonymous tip that Hansen was "sopping it up" in the White Knight, a bar near the track, before the day's races. Investigators found Hansen at the bar, grinning...and drinking a nonalcoholic beer. Was this another case of Hansen pulling a prank—was he the anonymous tipster?—or another instance of his beating the system? "I mean, the guy's drinking all morning," says Warren, "and then he blows a .02 [in the Breathalyzer, .06 below California's legal limit]."

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