Photo: Coady Photography
In this year of uncertainty that has been the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail, it only seems right to forgive one poor performance. Most all the contenders have at least one forgettable outing. If the mulligan idea is the way to go this year, shouldn't Hence be on short list of most likely winners? He's won most of the big ones already, but the Kentucky Derby is one race that has eluded Hall of Fame trainer, Steve Asmussen to this point. The winner of the most recent Triple Crown race, when Creator got up late in the Belmont Stakes, I have a gut feeling that the Derby is a race he eventually will win. 2017 is as good a year as any to make that prediction come true, and Hence just might be the horse that can get it done. A Kentucky homebred for the legendary Calumet Farm, it is true that Hence came up empty in the Southwest Stakes, but much like Creator at this time, the son of Street Boss is improving rapidly as a maturing young three-year-old. Let's not forget that three starts back he ran one of the most interesting races of any horse in his crop when breaking his maiden at Oaklawn Park.
After just missing in his final start at two at Churchill Downs, Hence looked like he was going to run off and hide in his sophomore debut. Powering by the field, despite a stumbling start out of the gate, he was home free -- and then he wasn't. Ducking in badly from well outside, it looked like the chestnut colt was suddenly headed for disaster, rather than the winner's circle. Straightened out just before going into the rail, he somehow managed to come on again to get up and win going away. It is a performance not soon forgotten.
It was in danger of being forgotten, though, when he could not make a successful jump from maidens to graded stakes racing in the Southwest. Here is where he gets his mulligan, because it was not a good performance. Perhaps we can chalk it up to a young colt's education. His lessons seemed to be learned next time out.
Yes, I know, the Sunland Derby is not one of the glamour preps for the first Saturday in May, but maybe this year, it should be. Consider that the well-beaten fourth-place finisher, Irap, came back to beat a good field in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, and just two days ago the Sunland Derby runner-up, Conquest Mo Money came back to run a bang-up second to Classic Empire in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Both ran huge in their next race at big odds after losing to the powerful rally of Hence in New Mexico.
As for the impressive winner, he is getting plenty of time to recover from his breakout victory. He'll have six weeks between races for the Derby. Now stabled at Churchill Downs, he got his first work over the track this morning, breezing five furlongs in company with the talented Local Hero. The pair scooted the trip in 1:00.40. Hence then galloped out strong, getting three-quarters in 1:13.40 and seven furlongs in 1:27.
It was his second nice work at Churchill since rolling at Sunland, and it was a bullet move that pleased his experienced trainer. “It’s very comforting to see Hence doing well again over the Churchill surface,” remarked Asmussen.
Like Irap and Conquest Mo Money, look for Hence to have some attractive odds in his first race since New Mexico, but unlike those two, his next out after the Sunland Derby will come in the big one.
He's only won twice in six starts so far, but there is plenty to like about the son of Street Boss, out of the A.P. Indy mare. He's improving, has a strong closing kick, and he ran fast at Sunland. We now know he also beat good horses and he likes Churchill Downs. He will not be one of the favorites on May 6, but really, what's not to like?