BALTIMORE, Md. – Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) will be Epicenter’s eighth career start, but Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen views the first seven races as just a warmup for the 6-5 morning-line favorite.
“I think it’s a very unique opportunity and he has a very nice resume, but we would definitely like to add to it,” Asmussen said in full turn-the-page mode after a narrow Kentucky Derby (G1) defeat. “We expect this is just the beginning of his racing career.”
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter drew Post #8 in a field of nine 3-year-olds entered in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Regular rider Joel Rosario, the 2021 Eclipse Award-winning jockey, has the mount at Pimlico Race Course.
If Epicenter’s first seven races indeed prove only a prelude, the main act could be spectacular.
Since finishing sixth in his racing debut Sept. 18 – the last time he ran less than a mile – Epicenter has four wins and two seconds. He is a length from being unbeaten during that skein: dropping a head decision after a protracted duel in the Fair Grounds’ Lecomte Stakes (G3) and, obviously far more painfully to his team, the Kentucky Derby, in which Epicenter took charge in the stretch, only to be passed in the final strides by 80-1 shot Rich Strike.
The fact that Epicenter’s start prior to the Kentucky Derby was the March 26 Louisiana Derby (G2) now seemingly works in the Not This Time colt’s favor with the two-week turnaround to the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. Simplification (fourth) and Happy Jack (14th) are the only other Derby horses returning in the Preakness.
“His races have been spaced considerably since the beginning, and I think that’s what has allowed us the horse we have right now,” Asmussen said. “How he runs back in two weeks and how he comes out of a race back in two weeks is yet to be determined.”
All the same, he believes tweaks made for the Fair Grounds’ 3-year-old series – changing the spacing and extending the Louisiana Derby to the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles and the Risen Star (G2) to 1 1/8 miles — are paying dividends.
“Love the series in New Orleans, how they’ve lengthened the races and adjusted the timing of them,” Asmussen said. “I thought it gave us a great chance in the Derby, as we’re standing here (after) being second, and now trying to improve upon that and back in 14 days.”
Oaks Winner Secret Oath ‘Breaks Their Hearts’
Briland Farms’ Secret Oath stretched her legs around the Preakness Stakes Barn at Pimlico Race Course early Tuesday morning, her first full day on the grounds. The 9-2 third choice in the morning line for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1) will attempt to become the seventh filly to win the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown in the 147-year history of the race.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas watched his star pupil as Secret Oath munched on grass outside the barn. Secret Oath and stablemate Ethereal Road, a 3-year-old colt who runs in Saturday’s Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard, arrived at Pimlico Monday afternoon.
“It was easy,” Lukas said of the 12-hour van journey from Louisville, Ky. “We left at 4 a.m. and got here just before 4 p.m. It was on the money. Perfect.”
Lukas rode shotgun in the pickup truck hauling the van. John Sica, the owner of Sica Horse Transport, did the driving.
After an easy day Tuesday, Secret Oath will get her first look at the Pimlico track when she is scheduled to go out at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Lukas said.
Secret Oath has won five of eight career starts and has three wins in four starts this season. The only loss came in the Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2 when she was third against males.
Her three wins this year – the Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park Jan. 29, the Honeybee (G3) at Oaklawn Feb. 26 and the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs – have been by a combined 16 ¾ lengths.
“Her turn of foot … she has got that acceleration,” Lukas said. “When you ask her to move, she has a devastating kick. She breaks their hearts.”
Lukas hopes that Secret Oath and jockey Luis Saez, who rode her for the first time in the Kentucky Oaks, will be able to work out the same kind of trip in the Preakness that proved so successful in Louisville.
“We had the perfect trip in the Oaks,” Lukas said. “I hope we don’t get too far back. She will catch them. Whether we can run by them, we will find out. I stay optimistic with one like this. She gives you reason every day to feel good.”
Early Voting Is In The House
Klaravich Stable’s Early Voting was shipped from trainer Chad Brown’s barn at Belmont Park to Pimlico Tuesday arriving at approximately 2 p.m.
The son of Gun Runner drew Post 5 in the field of nine for Saturday’s147th Preakness Stakes (G1) and is rated second at 7-2 in the morning line with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard.
Early Voting broke his maiden in his debut at Aqueduct on Dec. 18 and easily won the Withers (G3) by 4 ½ lengths in the mud on Feb. 5. In his most recent start, he was second by a neck in the Wood Memorial (G2) on April 9. The Preakness will be his first start away from Aqueduct, but Brown said the colt has some experience shipping back and forth to Saratoga during his career.
Klaravich purchased the colt bred by Three Chimneys Farm for $200,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Sale of yearlings. Brown was involved in the selection and purchase of Early Voting, whose dam, Amour d’Ete, is a half-sister to champion and top sire Speightstown, and a full sister to 2017 Blue Grass (G2) winner Irap, who earned over $1.6 million in purses.
“Mike Ryan and I do it together,” Brown said. “He scouts our horses for us, and I came in and looked at him. We thought he was a good prospect, and we were lucky enough to buy him.”
Brown said Early Voting was attractive with his combination of looks and pedigree.
“He’s a beautiful individual. Very well-bred,” Brown said. “We took a chance on a first-crop stallion, Gun Runner, that has turned out to be a terrific stallion. Everything has sort of worked out.”
Creative Minister Well-Versed in Pulling off Inside Jobs
When Creative Minister drew Post #2 for Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, it continued a coincidental pattern in his young career of only starting toward the inside of the starting gate.
In his first three races, Creative Minister started from Post #6 in a field of 11, Post #5 in a field of 12 and Post #4 in the 11-horse field he mastered in winning an entry-level allowance race on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard. So, Post #2 in the Preakness’ nine-horse field would not seem to faze him.
“Being inside doesn’t bother him,” jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. said by phone. “He’s had experience running between and inside of horses and in large fields.”
Creative Minister, trained by Kenny McPeek for Paul Fireman’s Fern Circle Stables and Greg Back’s Back Racing LLC, isn’t the only horse coming into this Preakness with only three prior starts. But Early Voting’s trio of races includes winning Aqueduct’s Withers (G3) and finishing second by a neck to Mo Donegal in the Wood Memorial (G2).
“There are some really nice horses in there: Epicenter, Early Voting, and Secret Oath was very impressive in the Kentucky Oaks,” Hernandez said of the Preakness. “This time of the year, horses can really change and develop. He’s dominated maiden and allowance horses, and now it’s time to have him step up and see what he can do.”
The ownership group, which includes McPeek being in for 10 percent, has supplemented Creative Minister into the Preakness for $150,000, bringing the total purse to $1.65 million.
Hernandez has some first-hand experience with Epicenter, the Preakness’ 6-5 favorite. In addition to trying to beat him, the jockey was in the saddle for Epicenter’s 6 ½-length romp in the Fair Grounds’ Gun Runner Stakes on Dec. 26.
“I was fortunate enough to get to ride him that one time,” Hernandez said. “You could just tell that he was a serious horse…. But we feel Creative Minister is a really good horse, too.”
Hernandez believes Creative Minister has the tools to give him his first victory in one of the 3-year-old classics.
“I’ve won a Classic but I never won a Triple Crown race,” said Hernandez, winner of Fort Larned’s victory in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita. “I’m going in with a lot of confidence in this horse, that he has the ability to do it. Obviously, the owners have a lot of confidence, too, putting up $150,000.”
Simplification ‘Good and Healthy’ for Preakness Run
Tami Bobo and Tristan De Meric’s Simplification galloped 1 ½ miles Tuesday morning in preparation for the 147thPreakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
“He had an easy gallop and then, the last three-eighths [of a mile] an open gallop,” trainer Antonio Sano said.
Simplification, who was rated fourth at 6-1 in the Preakness morning-line after drawing Post #1 at Monday’s post-position draw, finished fourth in the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1), in which he closed from 15th to fourth while racing very wide.
The son of Not This Time will be the second Preakness starter for Sano, who has been training in South Florida since emigrating from Venezuela in 2009. He saddled Gunnevera, a $5.5 million earner, for a fifth-place finish in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown in 2017 following a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s very important to win one of these races for the horse. It’s not easy with only five weeks,” Sano said. “I thank God, my horse is good and healthy for the next race.”
Simplification has gone about his business cool, calm and collected since shipping from Kentucky to Pimlico a week ago.
“Not always. He was a very nervous horse,” Sano said. “He was nervous in the gate, in the paddock, but not now. He’s very relaxed.”
Simplification was a bit slow to start when he tossed his head in the gate at the start of the Feb. 5 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream. The Florida-bred colt recovered to close from well off the pace to finish second in the Holy Bull before capturing the March 5 Fountain of Youth (G2) and finishing third in the Florida Derby (G1).
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride Simplification for the first time in the Preakness.
Skippylongstocking Gets Acquainted with Pimlico
On the morning after arriving in Baltimore by van from Florida Monday, Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking got acquainted with the Pimlico Race Course racetrack over which he is scheduled to run in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1).
“He jogged a mile,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. “Tomorrow, he’ll gallop, and he’ll gallop up to the race.”
Skippylongstocking, who was rated at 20-1 in the morning line after drawing Post #9 for the Preakness, has been a bit of a pleasant surprise with his late development.
“He was stopping in all his races, going a one-turn mile. [Jockey] Junior [Alvarado] recommended to stretch him out, and that’s made the difference with this colt,” Joseph said. “He had gotten to the point where it was getting frustrating.”
After winning one of his first seven races, the son of 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerate broke through with a 4 ¾-length optional claiming allowance triumph while stretching out to 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream March 2. He came right back to finish third behind Mo Donegal and Early Voting, respectively, in the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct at 1 1/8 miles.
“The added distance [of the 1 3/16-mile Preakness] hopefully will help him,” said Joseph, who saddled Ny Traffic for a ninth-place finish in the 2020 Preakness.
Alvarado has the return mount aboard Skippylongstocking.
Armagnac Adds to Yakteen’s Triple Crown Experience
The Triple Crown has been a new experience for Tim Yakteen.
He is hopeful that Saturday’s 147th Preakness (G1) will give him a better outcome than he got in the Kentucky Derby (G1) two weeks ago. Yakteen will saddle Armagnac, who is 12-1 on the morning line, for a start in the Preakness. In the Kentucky Derby, he watched two of his highly regarded horses be non-factors.
Taiba crossed the finish line in 12th place and Messier finished 15th.
“It has been a great experience,” Yakteen said. “You always want to do better and, hopefully, in the next leg, we will perform a little bit better.”
Armagnac, who is coming off a sharp optional claiming allowance victory at Santa Anita May 7, was scheduled to arrive at Pimlico early Tuesday evening following a cross-country flight from Southern California.
Happy Jack to Van Overnight from Churchill
Calumet Farm’s Happy Jack will be Pimlico-bound Tuesday night. The Doug O’Neill-trained colt is 30-1 on the morning line for Saturday’s 147th running of the Preakness (G1) and drew Post #6.
The 14th place finisher in the Kentucky Derby (G1) is expected to be on the Pimlico grounds sometime after sunrise Wednesday morning after vanning from Churchill Downs.
“We want to go at night,” O’Neill said. “It’s a little cooler and there isn’t as much traffic.”
The son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow spent his last day in Kentucky doing what he usually does. Happy Jack “two-minute licked a mile,” on his daily gallop. While in Kentucky, Happy Jack has been supervised by Sabas Rivera, a barn foreman for O’Neill.
“The way I exercise them, he slowly works every day,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill will be looking for his second Preakness win. In 2012, he won the race with I’ll Have Another.
Fenwick broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs March 12, 2022. (SV Photography)
Trainer: Fenwick Will Be Tough if He Gets His Way
Trainer Kevin McKathan said that Fenwick will arrive at Pimlico Race Course Wednesday morning from Kentucky to prepare for a start in Saturday’s 147th Preakness (G1).
McKathan reported that Fenwick will leave Churchill Downs via van at 5 p.m. Tuesday night.
“He trained this morning and is doing great,” McKathan said Tuesday morning. “He galloped 1 1/2 miles at Churchill. We’ll load him on the van and bring him on up.”
Fenwick, the first horse McKathan has trained in his name since 1989, is co-owned by Villa Rosa Farm and Harlo Stable and was a late addition to the Preakness field before entries closed. Last of 11 in the Blue Grass (G1) in his stakes debut, he drew Post 3 and is 50-1 on the morning line with Florent Geroux aboard.
McKathan had a brief training career in the 1980s before turning to the operation of the McKathan Brothers Training Center in Ocala, Fla. His brother, J.B., died in 2019.
McKathan said that he hopes to see Fenwick, a son of Curlin, leave the gates running.
“I think the horse fits in,” McKathan said. “If he gets his race and runs his race, he will be hard to outrun. I’m not saying he will outrun Steve’s horse [Asmussen-trained Epicenter]. I’m not saying anything crazy like that, but if he has his way, they will have a hard time getting by him. If he gets that open move, he will keep doing it, and he does it fast and he does it for a long time.”
Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
Photo: Skippylongstocking heading out to the Pimlico track for a workout Tuesday morning. (Jerry Dzierwinski/MJC)