Preakness Update: Epicenter ‘Pretty Sharp’ for Middle Jewel

May 15, 2022

Contenders begin to ship in Monday

BALTIMORE, Md. – With most final works in the books next Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) is shaping up to have nine runners in the field. The first to arrive last week was Simplification who has settled in nicely. The rest of the contenders will begin to arrive on Monday. No one will be in the stall reserved for the Kentucky Derby winner, stall 40. 

To see the the most recent workout videos available, click here.

• Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter had his penultimate training session at Churchill Downs Sunday morning galloping 1 ½ miles. He will have one of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s famous easy half-mile works early Monday morning before being vanned to Baltimore Tuesday.

“He seems to be pretty sharp,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi, who oversees Asmussen’s Churchill division. “I love how he’s doing. He galloped today like that was nothing; walked off the track with good energy. We’ll put a little work in him and go. Not much to do from here on out…. [but] win,” an apparent reference to Epicenter’s huge effort in the Derby, when he looked like the winner in mid-stretch only to get passed in the final strides on the inside by 80-1 Rich Strike.

Asked if the sting of the Derby defeat had ebbed, Blasi said, “If you don’t learn to turn the page in this game, you’re going to be a miserable human. What’s done is done. Move on.”

Asmussen won the Preakness in 2007 with 2007-2008 Horse of the Year Curlin and in 2009 with Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. 

Asmussen has been in Texas the past few days but told the Maryland Jockey Club’s Naomi Tukker: “Obviously we’re very proud of Epicenter and who he is and the races he’s run this year. But it was disappointing to be in that position, feel as confident as we did and not come away with the victory. But Rich Strike ran the better race and is the deserving winner. We will gladly regroup and try to represent well in the Preakness.”

NYRA/Coglianese

• Klaravich Stable’s Early Voting will have the chance Saturday at Pimlico Race Course to become the third straight horse and seventh this century that did not run in the Kentucky Derby (G1) to prevail in the Preakness Stakes (G1).

 Typically, the Preakness has been won by horses that ran two weeks earlier in the Derby. That trend has been interrupted in recent years with Cloud Computing (2017), the filly Swiss Skydiver (2020) and Rombauer (2021) finishing first in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Swiss Skydiver’s win came in the Covid 19-delayed Preakness, which was conducted in October.

Trainer Chad Brown is using the same script that worked for him with Cloud Computing, who was co-owned by Klaravich. Rather than run a lightly raced colt in the huge field of the Derby, he opted to let the second-place finisher in the Wood Memorial (G2) stay home at Belmont Park and get ready for the Preakness. Like Cloud Computing, the Preakness will be the fourth career start for Early Voting, a member of Gun Runner’s first crop. 

In 2000, Stronach Stable’s Red Bullet handled the heavily favored Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus by 3 ¾ lengths. Bernardini won the 2006 Preakness after Derby winner Barbaro was injured in the first run through the stretch. The Hall of Fame filly Rachel Alexandra jumped from an emphatic victory in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) to handle males in the 2009 Preakness.

Early Voting won this first two career starts but was beaten a neck by Mo Donegal in the April 9 Wood. Though Early Voting had enough qualifying points to make it into the Derby field with stablemate Zandon, who ended up third, Brown opted to wait for the Preakness.

 “It was not a hard decision,” Brown said. “It made a lot of sense. It’s something that we carefully studied. He was under consideration for the Derby right up until the week before the race, but ultimately, we are comfortable with this decision.”

Early Voting worked five furlongs in 1:00.63 Friday at Belmont Park and is scheduled to be shipped to Pimlico on Tuesday.

Benoit Photos

• Trainer Doug O’Neill experimented in the Kentucky Derby (G1) with Happy Jack.

It didn’t work.

So, when the son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow runs in Saturday’s Preakness (G1) at Pimlico Race Course, O’Neill will put the blinkers back on Happy Jack.

Happy Jack wore the hood in three of his first four starts before O’Neill opted to remove them before the Run for the Roses. Happy Jack was never a factor, finishing 14th at odds of 23-1.

“In the Derby, you’re trying to navigate 1 ¼ miles against 19 other horses,” O’Neill said, who won the Preakness in 2012 with I’ll Have Another. “By taking the blinkers off, I thought it would give him a chance to get a little breather.”

Happy Jack wore the blinkers in his first career start and broke his maiden at Santa Anita on Jan. 22. O’Neill kept them on in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita on Feb. 6 and the colt finished last in the field of five, beaten 27 ¼ lengths.

The hood came off in the San Felipe (G2) on March 5 and Happy Jack was third, beaten 10 ½ lengths. They were back on in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and he was third again, finishing 12 ¼ lengths behind Taiba.

Heading into the Preakness, the blinkers are going back on.

“He is kind of a grinder,” O’Neill said. “I think he has to be more involved early. Hopefully, with a shorter field, a better post position and with the blinkers on, he can be more forwardly placed. He’s a trier and a stayer, and I think he can make up more ground more forwardly placed.”

Happy Jack is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore on Tuesday. He galloped 1 ¼ miles at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning.

“Knock on wood, he’s doing well.” O’Neill said.

O’Neill is scheduled to fly to Baltimore from California on Wednesday and be on the Pimlico grounds Thursday. 

Coady Photography

• Un Ojo, the one-eyed winner of Oaklawn Park’s Rebel (G2) at 75-1 odds, came out of his Saturday workout in good order and is scheduled to van to Baltimore Monday afternoon, trainer Ricky Courville said. 

The gelding worked five-eighths of a mile at Churchill Downs in 1:02, galloping out three-quarters of a mile in a strong 1:14 3/5. He had a scheduled walk day Sunday, with his care overseen by Courville’s son and assistant trainer, Clay Courville.

Un Ojo, owned by Cypress Creek Equine and Whispering Oaks Farm, was withdrawn from Kentucky Derby consideration on May 2, the morning that entries were taken because of a minor foot bruise.

“The next day after we didn’t enter, he was pretty good,” Courville said by phone from his Copper Crowne Training Center base in Opelousas, La. “We were soaking the foot a couple of days, and Tuesday morning he got really good. We just gave him the rest of the week, soaking it, making sure, and went on and sent him back to the track Derby morning. He’s been training since. It was just unfortunate. Monday [entry day] he wasn’t 100 percent; Tuesday he was.”

Because their hotel rooms were non-refundable for Derby weekend, Ricky Courville said he stayed in town for the race. He watched 80-1 Rich Strike – who had drawn in off the also-eligible list – rally from last behind the fastest first quarter-mile in Derby history to get past favored Epicenter in the closing strides.

“After the race, I thought it set up perfect – it would have been good for [Un Ojo], with his running style,” Ricky Courville said of his New York-bred son of Laoban. “But you don’t know what hole we would have drawn. Would it have changed the race if we were in it? Just a lot of ‘what ifs.’ You got to move forward and not even think about it. Clay was upset. But it’s done; on to the next race.”

Now he’s hoping Un Ojo pulls off another upset in the Preakness.

“I mean, we had a lot of confidence heading into the Derby,” Ricky Courville said. “He was working so good over the Churchill track. Because he’s not much of a workhorse, he never was. He’d work here at Copper Crowne. It’s kind of a two-turn five-eighths work over a six-furlong track. He’ll go in 1:03, 1:02 if you ask him. He goes to Churchill and goes in 59 [seconds] and just looks like he’s loping. He was loving that track.” 

Jerry Dzierwinski/Maryland Jockey Club

• Tami Bobo and Tristan De Meric’s Simplification galloped 1 ½ miles at Pimlico Race Course Sunday morning in preparation for a start in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1).

The son of Not This Time is expected to be one of the horses in the Preakness field that competed in the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1). Simplification, who rallied from 15th to finish fourth following a very wide trip at Churchill Downs, will be joined by Derby runner-up Epicenter in the field for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown and 14th-place-finisher Happy Jack when entries are taken Monday.

Gulfstream Park-based trainer Antonio Sano arrived to join his Fountain of Youth (G2) winner at Pimlico Sunday afternoon.

Courtesy of Starlight Racing

• An eye-opening allowance victory at Santa Anita last Sunday paved the way for a trip to Baltimore for Armagnac. After he streaked under the finish line as an easy 4 ½-length winner in that race, it was decided his next start would be the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course Saturday.

“We feel we have a good horse who is improving at the right time,” said Tom Ryan, the managing partner of SF Racing, which co-owns Armagnac.

SF Racing owns the son of Quality Road along with Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, Golconda Stable and Siena Farm.

Armagnac is trained by Tim Yakteen and will be ridden for the first time by Irad Ortiz Jr. in the Preakness.

The allowance win, contested at 1 1/16 miles, was Armagnac’s second win in five career starts.

Ryan knows they will be asking a lot of their horse in the Preakness.

“He might be 15- or 20-1,” Ryan said. “We think it’s something we have to go in and see how it plays out. No one thought the (Kentucky) Derby winner was going to win the Derby.”

That, of course, was Rich Strike, who won the Run for the Roses at 80-1 odds.

Coming back on the short rest is a cause for concern, but Armagnac isn’t the only Preakness runner doing the quick turnaround. Likely Preakness favorite Epicenter was second in the Derby; Simplification was fourth; and the filly, Secret Oath, won the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 6.

Also, Happy Jack, 14th in the Derby, and Creative Minister, an allowance winner on Derby day, are wheeling back in the Preakness.

“We ran last Sunday, and we had to run fast to win,” Ryan said of Armagnac’s gate-to-wire victory. “But Epicenter had no walk in the park and the filly (Secret Oath) ran massive in the Oaks. Grade 1 races are Grade 1 races, man. They are hard to win.”

The Preakness will be the third graded stakes race for Armagnac. He was fourth, beaten a neck for third by Happy Jack in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 9 and was sixth, 27 ½ lengths behind Forbidden Kingdom in the San Felipe (G2) on March 5.

Coglianese

• Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking began his journey by van from Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, Fla., to Pimlico Race Course early Sunday afternoon.

The third-place finisher in the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct is expected to arrive in Baltimore early Monday morning to continue training for a start in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1). 

Maryland Jockey Club Press Release/Edited
Photo of Epicenter’s workout at Churchill Downs by Coady Photography

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