Runner-up in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), Epicenter stamped himself as the favorite for the $1.25 million Travers (G1) on Aug. 27 by recording an impressive 1 1/2-length win in Saturday’s $600,000 Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga.
The Steve Asmussen-trained colt rolled through 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.99, finishing full of run under regular rider Joel Rosario, and Epicenter left a formidable group of rivals in his wake as he rallied widest of all through the stretch to score as the 1.10-1 favorite for Joan and Ron Mitchell’s Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC.
“It’s extremely rewarding off two tough races to bring him back in the winner’s circle where we think he belongs,” Asmussen said. “(In) a four-horse field, it’s always a lot of mobility. I was very happy with the solid, steady pace – I think that 48 and one, 12 for every eighth of a mile is what we’re targeting. What I loved about it is the fact that (there is) another eighth in the (1 1/4-mile) Travers. It was his first race ever over Saratoga and we know what’s on the menu next. We want to be as ready as we possibly can for it.”
Bigger races lie ahead, but Epicenter moved to the fore of the three-year-old male division on Saturday.
Breaking from the innermost post, the bay son of Not This Time settled nicely while saving ground at the back of pack. Preakness winner Early Voting showed the way on a clear lead through fractions in :24.22, :48.28, and 1:12.26 as the entire four-horse field was separated by less than five lengths during the opening stages.
“He broke well, but took a little bit of time,” Rosario said of the early strategy. “It looked like there were a couple of the horses that wanted to go and get a position, so I just let him be where he was and happy.”
Blue Grass (G1) romper Zandon, unraced since a third in the Kentucky Derby, tracked the pace in second and Ohio Derby (G3) winner Tawny Port was also up close to the inside as the runners made their way along the backstretch and into the far turn.
Epicenter was under a hold as he edged closer on the final bend, and all three rivals had come under a ride as they turned for home. Rosario swung wide into the stretch while giving his mount the cue, and Epicenter responded with an outstanding turn of foot, powering past foes by midstretch and drawing clear.
“When he eased him out at the head of the lane, he was travelling really pretty,” Asmussen said.
“He looked relaxed and did everything when I asked, so we look forward for that (the Travers),” Rosario added.
Zandon, the 5-2 third choice, outfinished 8-1 Tawny Port for second by 1 1/2 lengths. It was nearly two more lengths to 9-5 Early Voting.
A maiden winner the second time out at Churchill Downs in mid-February, Epicenter jumped straight to stakes company with a convincing triumph in December’s Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds. He came back to finish head second in the Lecomte (G3) and began to distinguish himself as a top Kentucky Derby contender when following with a convincing wire-to-wire tally in the Risen Star (G2).
Epicenter prepped for the Kentucky Derby with an easy win in the Louisiana Derby (G2), but he could not hold on as the 4-1 favorite in the first leg of the Triple Crown, surrendering the lead late to 80-1 upsetter Rich Strike. Bettors bet Epicenter down to 6-5 favoritism in the Preakness two weeks later, but he missed the break and couldn’t catch Early Voting in deep stretch.
The Kentucky-bred sophomore came back stronger than ever from a 70-day freshening in the Jim Dandy.
Out of the stakes-winning Silent Candy, a daughter of Candy Ride, Epicenter was purchased for $260,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale. He’s now earned $2,270,639 from a 9-5-3-0 record.
“The fact that this is his first run over Saratoga (is good),” Asmussen said about the Travers. “I didn’t expect it to offer him any problems whatsoever, but it’s a great relief for him to run his race over this track. It’s definitely a goal and we think Epicenter has a wonderful opportunity to do it.”