Epicenter Takes Down Risen Star and Turnerloose Runs Over the Field in the Rachel Alexandra

February 20, 2022

Fair Grounds-based Star Points for Louisiana Derby

Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks points awarded

New Orleans, LA (February 19, 2022)—Winchell Thoroughbreds Epicenter just ran his race – again. 

An easy winner of the Gun Runner Stakes earlier in the meet, Epicenter set fast fractions and was beaten a nose in last month’s Lecomte Stakes (G3) by the longshot Call Me Midnight. With a front-running style, Epicenter was by himself at the wire on Saturday in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) presented by LaMarque Ford at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots

Ridden to victory by Joel Rosario, Epicenter controlled the pace up front and cruised under the wire 2-3/4-lengths ahead of 2.20–to-1 favorite Smile Happy. Zandon finished a half-length back in third in the 10-horse field.               

“A little different than his last race in that every fraction was perfect,” owner Ron Winchell said. “He looked nice and comfortable. We were just hoping he would finish the race (off) and he did, he looked great.”

Breaking alertly from the five-hole, the son of Not This Time needed little urging under Rosario to open up a length on Pioneer of Medina in fractions of 23.79 and 47.97 for the half-mile. After a comfortable six furlongs in 1:12.25, Epicenter was able to skirt away in the long Fair Grounds stretch with a final time of 1:49.03 for the 1 ⅛ miles on a fast track.

“He did run a really big race today,” Rosario said. “That was really nice. He looked like he was enjoying what he was doing and put in a really nice race today. We’ll see going forward how far he can go.”

Smile Happy’s jockey Corey Lanerie felt his colt was poised for a big run down the lane.

“About the 3/8ths pole to the 5/16ths I was wanting to get out and start to make my run a little sooner than I was able to,” Lanerie said. “I felt like I was still running the time I got out to the end (finish line), so if I had gotten out when I had wanted to, I would have liked to see the outcome. But he ran fabulous and he has some (Derby) points now.”

Zandon’s trainer Chad Brown thought his colt would have been closer had he not leapt out the starting gate from the seventh post position.

“He leapt at the start so it was disappointing he was so far back,” Brown said. “He lost all chance to win. I’m proud of the horse’s effort that he was still able to get a minor piece. The (10) points can help us down the road.”

Winchell Thoroughbreds and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen have been down this road before after their win in the Risen Star in 2016 with Gun Runner, who went on to capture the Louisiana Derby before a third-place finish for the roses on the first Saturday in May. They also won the race with Pyro in 2008.

Improving his earnings to $410,639 with three wins and a second from five starts, Epicenter ($9) picked up 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby to secure his spot in the starting gate.

The race awarded points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers. The next step on Fair Grounds’ Road to the Kentucky Derby is the March 26 Louisiana Derby (G2). The rest of the field in order of finish included Pioneer of Medina in fourth followed by Tawny Port, Slow Down Andy, Trafalgar, Pappacap, Bodock and Russian Tank.

Turnerloose turned loose on the dirt

Two-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Brad Cox usually goes into graded stakes races with a pretty good idea of how his horses stack up, but until she hit the finish line in front on Saturday, Ike and Dawn Thrash’s Turnerloose was a mystery to Cox and most of the public in the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton.

Dismissed at odds of 17.50-1 under Florent Geroux, Turnerloose sat a quiet stalking trip before emerging four-wide in the stretch run to post the upset win by a half-length over Red Oak Stable’s longshot Goddess of Fire. It was another 2-3/4-lengths back to Awake At Midnyte in third.

“To be honest I didn’t know if she could handle the dirt,” said Cox, who teamed with Geroux to win this race in 2018 with superstar Monomoy Girl. “She worked well enough last fall. I gave her a little bit of a break. She worked well enough here at Fair Grounds. She always tries hard. We saw a better version of her today than we did in California (Breeders’ Cup).”

In making her dirt debut, Turnerloose ($37) notched her first graded stakes win. She entered off a last place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf to end her 2-year-old season.  The first four starts of her career all came on lawn.

“I expected her to be forwardly placed and she broke really well,” Geroux commented. “I was in a good spot but there were two horses in front of me going into the first turn so we sat chilly and I was able to keep a nice rhythm and not force the pace if I didn’t have to. When I got my window, I fit her in and coming down the lane, I tipped her outside and continually kept getting on her. She was getting brave and went on to catch a nice filly.”

The 3-year-old daughter of Nyquist out of the A.P. Indy mare Goaltending stopped the clock in 1:44.22 for the 1 1/16 miles affair. The winner’s share of $180,000 bumps her career earnings mark to $531,300 with a record of 5-2-0-1. She also picked up 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks with her Rachel Alexandra win.

The race awarded points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers toward a spot in the starting gate for the April 30 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs. The next step on Fair Grounds’ Road to the Kentucky Oaks is the March 26 TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks.

“We will take a look at both the Fair Grounds Oaks and the Ashland as possibly her next start,” Cox said.

Hidden Connection, the 2-to-1 favorite, made her move turning for home with the leaders but missed third by 1 ¾ lengths to Awake At Midnyte.

“You’re always disappointed when you don’t win,” trainer Bret Calhoun said. “I think it was a good race for her to move forward. Reylu (jockey Gutierrez) had to use her some out of the gate being stuck in the 11-post. He worked out a good trip going into first turn and it went smooth from there. She fought hard but just got a little empty on us. She’s been off a good while and her works coming back were subpar until that last work which was good. So I think we gave up a little fitness there. If we could have got that last work two weeks ago, I think we would’ve been where we needed to be. We were just a little short today.”

The rest of the field behind Hidden Connection in order of finish was Miss Mattie B, Dream Lith, North County, Candy Raid, Divine Huntress, California Angel and La Crete, who pulled up at the three-eighths pole and was vanned off.

According to the connections, X-rays revealed La Crete suffered a condylar fracture in her right front and surgery will be performed tomorrow.

“Steve (trainer Asmussen) is with Barbara (owner Banke),” assistant trainer Scott Blasi said. “Everything humanly possible is being done. She (La Crete) is resting comfortably now.”

Additional Quotes:

Doug O’Neill, trainer Awake At Midnyte, finished 3rd

“I’m going to have to watch the replay. I thought there was a lot going on there. We will regroup off this and go for the next spot.”

Luis Saez, jockey Goddess of Fire, finished 2nd

“She made a nice move. She never gave up. Always trying and she ran through the wire. The seven [Turnerloose] came flying. We just could keep up with her.”

Reylu Gutierrez, jockey of Hidden Connection, finished 4th;

“We had to hustle her into the first turn more than we would have liked to establish that position but we established it. I’m not sure what happened with the 1 [La Crete], but when Joel went out wide it pushed me wide. I had to use a little more just to clear and get over for the safety of the other horses. “[Hidden Connection] is going to get better. The boss knows, we have seen what we have seen in the mornings, and she is going to move forward a lot from this race more than those past couple works.”

Fair Grounds Press Release

Photo: Hodges Photography

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