April 11th 2017
After reviewing all the major Derby prep races to date and analyzing times and speed figures, two horses jumped off my spreadsheet as potential Kentucky Derby sleepers: Gunnevera and Hence. I like my Derby contenders to achieve two standards in their final prep race before the Derby: a sub 1:50 time in a 9 furlong race and a final 3 furlong fraction time of less than 38 seconds. Both Gunnevera and Hence achieved these standards and did so with flying colors.
Now I don’t see either of these two as a huge threat to win the 143rd Run for the Roses. However, with a Derby trail season that has been marked with inconsistency and the race favorite getting beat often, this seems to be a year where anything can happen. A “Mine That Bird” sort of year.
I expect Gunnevera and Hence will both be flying a bit under the radar on Derby Day. If nothing else, these two horses should be given strong consideration for rounding out your superfecta bets. Here is why.
With Gunnevera, the Antonio Sano trained colt disappointed in the Florida Derby (shown below) with a third place finish.
This disappointing finish will scare off a lot of bettors. However, after reviewing the race and his final 3 furlong time, I like his chances of finishing in the money on Derby Day. I estimated that Gunnevera ran the final 3 furlongs in 36.32 seconds, faster than Always Dreaming’s final 3 furlong time and the fastest any horse has run in their final prep race to date.
Gunnevera has a closer race style and he simply got too far behind to have a shot at beating Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby. This can be corrected much like jockey Keith Desormeaux had to do with Exaggerator last year. If you remember, Desormeaux made the adjustment and began to press Exaggerator up to mid-pack sooner to get him within shouting distance of the race leader.
With an additional furlong like Gunnevera will enjoy in the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby, he should be more of a factor at the end. A stalking race style like Always Dreaming employs traditionally has better success rate in the Derby. However, a few closers do win on occasion. I like putting a closer or two in my superfecta bets because the pace and additional furlong sometimes tires out a few on the lead pack and makes them easy prey to be picked off for position down the stretch. Last year, Exaggerator used this same closing race style strategy to get a second place finish behind Nyquist.
Gunnevera – expected morning line Kentucky Derby odds 15/1
Career: 7 Starts 3-1-1-1
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Dialed In (Finished 8th in 2011 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Antonio Sano
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.51 (estimated) – 2017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 97 – 2017 Fountain of Youth Stakes
I am sure that my inclusion of the Steve Asmussen-trained Hence will raise some eyebrows here. Hence’s Sunland Derby win (shown below) didn’t generate a whole lot of ink when it happened. However, his 1:48.10 time is the second fastest 9 furlong time of this class behind Always Dreamings’ 1:47.47 in the Florida Derby. I estimated Hence’s final 3 furlong fraction time in the Sunland Derby at 37.62, the third fastest behind Always Dreaming (36.56) and Gunnevera’s (36.32) in the Florida Derby.
Yes, Sunland Park is a notoriously fast track. But remember what 2015 Sunland Derby winner Firing Line did that year in the Kentucky Derby–a second place finish behind American Pharoah and ahead of highly touted Dortmund.
Working a bit against Hence is the fact that his sire Street Boss was a sprinter. If a generation is skipped, Street Boss’s sire (Hence’s grandsire) was Street Cry who won the 2002 Dubai World Cup.
Steve Asmussen is a great trainer who does more with less. He is very good at developing a colt and bringing them along slowly. Just see the development of Gun Runner over his 3-year-old season and into his 4-year-old campaign. Gun Runner really didn’t produce eye-popping times or speed figures during his Derby prep season but he won and ended up finishing third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Gun Runner has been an extremely consistent throughout his race career and is now is arguably the best colt in training behind Arrogate due to his consistency.
Hence – expected morning line Kentucky Derby odds 20/1
Career: 6 Starts 2-1-1-0 Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>7th–>1st
Sire: Street Boss
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.10 – 2017 Sunland Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 – 2017 Sunland Derby
On the docket…
My next blog will preview the Arkansas Derby which is scheduled for Saturday April 15th. I will have this out by Friday morning.