If I owned a horse that earned enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby, I'd be there no matter how slow the horse was, how small his chances were, and how questionable the way I earned those points. I mean, think about it - owners get great seats, invitations to all the parties, barn passes, and so much more. It's like the ultimate VIP experience. That, I assume, is the thinking behind sending Hence to the Kentucky Derby.
He's earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but it is tough to argue that he truly deserves it. Any horse who starts the Derby has at least a chance of winning it, but this horse will have a lot less of a chance than many.
Last race: The Sunland Derby is an example, in my eyes, of what is wrong with the current Derby qualifying system - just like the Spiral Stakes. I generally like the points system - it makes more sense than the earnings system they used to use. The problem, though, is that races like these ones attract less than the best runners out there, yet a first-place finish in the race basically guarantees the winner a start in the Derby. It's like a backdoor entrance to the biggest race on the planet. Winning one of these races gives you higher status than finishing third in the Florida Derby or one of the other major prep races, but it's common that these winners aren't nearly good enough to have finished in the top three in those races. The Sunland can produce some quality from time to time - Firing Line won the race in 2015 and came closest to derailing American Pharoah's Triple Crown when he was second in the Derby, and Mine That Bird was fourth in the Sunland before his almost impossible Derby win in 2009. If Hence matches either of those two, though, I'll be shocked. As the seventh choice in the 11-horse field, Hence was very slow out of the gate, running 10th behind modest fractions. He worked his way up the field through the backstretch, moved into the lead by the top of the stretch, and held on for the win.
Prior experience: From August until the middle of January Hence tried to break his maiden on four different tracks in three states - including the same Churchill Downs track that the Derby will be run on. He finally got it done at Oaklawn Park. From there he made the huge jump in class to the Southwest Stakes, the Derby prep won by Todd Pletcher's One Liner. Hence was slow early, had nothing to give late, and wound up an irrelevant seventh. There were three or four decent horses in that field, and Hence seemed far behind all of them.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen is a hall of famer with more than 7,000 career wins. He knows how to finish first. While he has won the Preakness twice and the Belmont last year, one of those 7000+ wins is not the Kentucky Derby. He should have won one - to this day I don't understand how Curlin didn't win the race. Asmussen is certainly capable of winning this race, but even a guy as experienced as him can't turn this horse into a superstar.
Jockey: Alfredo Juarez Jr. rode the horse last time out, but it is quite possible that someone else will be aboard for the Derby. The Sunland was the first graded stakes win for Juarez in 11 years, and his four graded stakes wins have all been Grade 3s, so he's not exactly equipped to mess with the best in a race like the Derby.
Breeding: Hence is sired by Street Boss, a sprinter who cost me money when he finished just third in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Sprint. That blood doesn't help give me any confidence that Hence can handle the challenge of the Derby. At least he does get stamina from one of the best possible sources - his damsire is the legendary A.P. Indy. This is a recurring theme at this point, but I still don't have any faith that this horse is any good despite the A.P. Indy influence.
Odds: BetOnline has Hence at +2000 to win the Derby, which makes him the 14th choice in the field. That's a truly ridiculous price, and there isn't an ounce of value to be had. You could add a zero to the end of the price and I still wouldn't like it. He was not listed on the final Kentucky Derby future wager from Churchill Downs, so he is part of the mutuel field at 11/1.
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