BALTIMORE, Md. – Winchell Racing’s Epicenter, the 6-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $1.65 million Preakness Stakes (G1), jogged a mile around Pimlico Race Course’s oval early Wednesday, his first morning in town after vanning from Louisville.
“He’s traveling really well. It seems like his energy level is good,” said Scott Blasi, chief assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, who left the track early to watch horses work at Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale at Timonium. “He’s bounced out of the Derby with relative ease and made the ship fine. Just trying to get settled in and get our schooling done and run Saturday.”
Blasi said Epicenter will school in the starting gate during training Thursday and then school in the paddock during the races.
Epicenter was also the favorite in the Kentucky Derby (G1) off impressive victories in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2). The son of Not This Time seemed home free in the Derby in deep stretch when it appeared clear that Zandon was not going to get past him, only to have the late-running Rich Strike shoot past him on the rail to win by three-quarters of a length at 80-1 odds.
“The only way I can explain it is it just wasn’t meant to be,” Blasi said, adding of the torrid pace that included the first-quarter mile in a Derby-record 21.78 seconds, “I don’t think anybody saw those fractions coming the first three-quarters of a mile of the race. The race fell apart a little bit, as it should have. It just is what it is. If you don’t learn to turn the page in this game, you’re going to have a lot of sleepless nights.
“The Derby is an event, a 20-horse race under circumstances they’ll never have to be in ever again. Just one of those things. First one to the wire wins, like Steve always says. Didn’t happen.”
As far as watching the final furlong – with Rich Strike still four lengths behind Epicenter, who was a length ahead of Zandon – Blasi reflected: “I was more focused on him and the other horse. They’d gotten into a duel, and I really didn’t see the other horse coming, to be honest, until I watched the replay.”
The ultimate outcome aside, there was a lot to love about Epicenter’s performance under jockey Joel Rosario. Epicenter settled into eighth in the early stages to be farther back than he’d ever been in a race, willingly accommodating Rosario’s cues to move through horses and patiently waiting for a spot to open rounding out of the far turn.
“Joel gave him a great trip from the 3-hole, not the easiest position to be in,” Blasi said. “He was able to save ground and tip out at the quarter pole and ran to the wire. We were probably just a little close to a fast pace, but that’s just how it is.
“… To be honest with you, it’s over. There are no re-dos. There’s one Derby a year. We were proud of our horse and how he ran,” he added. “Congratulations to the winner.”
Epicenter will break from Post #8 in the Preakness Stakes, which Rich Strike and Zandon are skipping.
“We absolutely love the horse,” Blasi said. “He’s extremely talented. We’re lucky to have him. He’s been very consistent in his training, very workmanlike, shows up and does his job. That’s the great thing about horses like that, the consistency of them.”
If that workmanlike persona isn’t flashy, Blasi said, “I think we’ve seen brilliance out of him. I think he could have won the Louisiana Derby by as far as he wanted. Joel geared him down a little bit because he was already in front by 2 ½, three lengths – taking care of the horse…. Most good horses go and do their job. The kind you have to go out and wrestle with, it doesn’t usually work out too well. He’s got the physical and the mental, which is what usually makes a good horse.
Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
Photo: Epicenter had a work at Pimlico. (Jerry Dzriewinski/MJC)