07/08/2017 11:14AM

Hence bounces back to top form to win Iowa Derby

Coady Photography
Hence and jockey Mike Smith win the Iowa Derby by 1 1/2 lengths.

Thursday night at Prairie Meadows was a dud for the Hall of Fame team of trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Mike Smith, as Chantelline finished third as the heavy favorite in the Saylorville Stakes and Ever So Clever, another favorite, chugged home sixth in the Iowa Oaks.

But on Friday night, three days after the Fourth of July, it was Prairie Meadows fireworks for the Asmussen-Smith duo as Smith brought Danzatrice from last to first to win the Iowa Distaff and, one race later, did the same thing with Hence in the Grade 3, $250,000 Iowa Derby.

It was a throwback race for Hence, harking back to his strong-finishing win March 26 in the Sunland Derby and taking at least a touch of the sting out of disappointing runs in the Triple Crown’s first two legs. 

For the first half of the 1 1/16-mile Iowa Derby, two races were ongoing, with the first seven horses in a fairly tight clump and Hence by himself, far behind the second-to-last horse. But that is how Hence seems to enjoy going about his business.

“It was actually a really good trip for him and how he likes to run,” said Smith, who was riding Hence for the first time. “You can get him in a good, happy, comfortable rhythm, even if it’s a little farther back than you like to be.”

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Up front, the pace was measured but contested as McCormick, running along the fence, went in 23.98 seconds for his first quarter-mile and 48.05 to the half, with Balandeen and Impressive Edge stacked directly to his outside. At the half-mile pole, Hence still trailed the bulk of the field by several lengths, but he began gaining momentum and, swinging wide, came around the far turn in full flight.

“When I picked him up at the three-eighths pole, I had a lot of run,” Smith said. “It was a just a matter of staying on.”

Stay on Hence did. McCormick, making his stakes debut for trainer Ian Wilkes and jockey Julien Leparoux, fought off his pace rivals and held his lead to the stretch call, but Hence kept coming and coming on the outside and got home by 1 1/2 lengths. Hence stopped the timer in 1:42.84 while racing over a fast track, and after being bet to favoritism early in the wagering, he drifted late to 7-2 and paid a fairly generous $9.40 to win.

McCormick finished one length ahead of Impressive Edge, who had just a neck on Silver Dust, the latter suffering considerable ground loss. Then came Petrov, the 2-1 favorite who turned in a disappointing effort, followed by longshots Jerrid, Line Judge, and Balandeen. Thirsforlife was an early scratch.

Hence was bred and is owned by Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm and is a son of Street Boss and the A.P. Indy mare Floating Island. He won a maiden race early this year at Oaklawn despite an extremely erratic stretch run and became a bona fide Triple Crown hope when he steamrolled the Sunland Park Derby and earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure. It was fair to wonder after an 11th-place Kentucky Derby finish and a distant ninth in the Preakness if Hence ever would follow up on the Sunland promise, but on Friday night in Iowa, he did.

Danzatrice rolls in Distaff

When last seen racing at Evangeline Downs in the June 2 Spotted Horse Stakes, Danzatrice didn’t finish at all, but in the $101,733 Iowa Distaff, she finished with a flourish.

Last of eight into the far turn, Danzatrice and Smith looped the field and won the Distaff by 1 1/4 lengths. Cleverness, a 60-1 shot, finished second, a nose in front of 53-1 Divine Dutchess, who had a head on the pacesetting Mywomanfromtokyo. Walkabout would at least have finished second had she not been stopped badly past the eighth pole while progressing inside but wound up fifth. Then came Divine Elegance, Ruby Sioux, and 17-10 favorite Brooklynsway, who had no impact while making her first start in almost a year.

Danzatrice paid $9.60 to win and ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.80. A 5-year-old mare by Dunkirk and out of Lady Pewitt, by Orientate, Danzatrice unseated her rider last out at Evangeline, but there were other concerns with her form. She had won a Sam Houston turf allowance in her previous race, but that victory followed no-show losses in dirt stakes at Sunland and Houston.

Danzatrice, owned by Gainesway Stables, really caught the eye last December at Fair Grounds in winning the Tiffany Lass Stakes, and though she might not have gotten all the way back to that level Friday night, she was good enough to win for the seventh time in 14 starts.