BALTIMORE, Md. – Ron Winchell, owner of Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) runner-up Epicenter, remarked before Pimlico Race Course’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown how elusive the 3-year-old classics have been for his family.
That sentiment was compounded Saturday evening, after Epicenter rallied behind a slow pace to finish 1 1/4 lengths behind triumphant Early Voting. The winner and jockey Jose Ortiz took the lead heading into the far turn after being closest to the soft pace set by long shot Armagnac. Meanwhile, Epicenter, who broke with the field but then was squeezed back, was eighth of nine in the early stages, needing to find running room as Joel Rosario picked his way through horses before making a run at Early Voting in the final eighth of a mile.
It was the second-straight year that Winchell and trainer Steve Asmussen had finished second in the Preakness, following Midnight Bourbon’s loss to the late-running Rombauer in 2021. In that case, Midnight Bourbon pressed a fast pace and was run down late.
“It’s a little tough getting second two years in a row,” Winchell said Saturday evening. “Like I said before, these Triple Crown races are ever-eluding for us…. We’re going to try every year. But this guy had all the makings of what it takes to win.”
Winchell now is 0 for 4 in the Preakness, with two seconds and a third. His late father, Verne, finished fourth with his only Preakness starter.
The consolation for Ron Winchell is that he campaigned and still co-owns with Three Chimneys Farm the stallion Gun Runner, the sire of Early Voting. Gun Runner already has five Grade 1-winning sons and daughters, a champion and now a classic winner, from his first crop.
“Let’s turn the page to Gun Runner, because he looked unbelievable – just like he’s always looked,” Winchell said. “Look, we got beat. Getting beat by a Gun Runner makes it a little less painful.”
Winchell speculated that the two-week turnaround from Epicenter’s three-quarters of a length defeat in the Kentucky Derby to 80-1 shot Rich Strike, did not work in his colt’s favor Saturday.
“I don’t think he benefited from the two weeks,” Winchell said. “He looked a little flat. The quarter going in 24-and-1 and he’s way back after that. He didn’t seem like the same horse. That’s just what I’m seeing on the surface.”
Winchell expressed doubt that Epicenter would go on to the Belmont Stakes (G1) at June 11 at Belmont Park.
“I would say that’s a stretch at the moment,” he said. “He had six weeks between the Louisiana Derby and the Derby, and that did him well. I think there might have been five weeks between the Risen Star (G2) and the Louisiana Derby (G2), and that did him well. Just looking at how he came back fresh, that seems to be the recipe at the moment. But at least a Gun Runner won.”
Winchell speculated that a race such as Monmouth Park’s Haskell (G1) or Saratoga’s Travers (G1) could be the next target, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland in early November a logical objective.
“We’ll turn the page and see where we want to go from there,” he said. “But that’s probably the long-term goal.”
Scott Blasi, chief assistant trainer to Asmussen, said Sunday morning that Epicenter came out of the Preakness in good order. He said Epicenter and his stablemates at Pimlico would van back to Churchill Downs on Monday morning.
Asmussen ran seven horses in six stakes over Preakness weekend, with two wins, two seconds and two thirds.
Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
Photo: Epicenter arriving at Pimlico (Jerry Dzierwinski/MJC)