For much of Saturday’s Travers Day card at Saratoga, trainer Steve Asmussen had little reason to smile. Reigning champion sprinter Jackie’s Warrior lost for the first time in six starts over the Saratoga strip as the heaviest of favorites in the Forego (G1). Later, leading older filly Clairiere finished an uncharacteristic last of five when favored in the Personal Ensign (G1).
Things brightened up considerably for Asmussen, though, in the featured $1.25 million Travers S. (G1), which stable star Epicenter ($4) thoroughly dominated as the even-money favorite. Collaring long-time leader Cyberknife approaching the quarter pole, Epicenter drew off in upper stretch and scored handsomely by 5 1/4 lengths under Joel Rosario in a commendable time of 2:00.72 for 1 1/4 miles over a fast track.
“He was away cleanly and thought he was very comfortable and attending close enough to the pace, and just ran a very dominating performance against a very good group,” Asmussen said.
Cyberknife, coming off a track-record performance in the Haskell (G1), clung to second by a nose over Zandon, who finished a neck ahead of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Rich Strike. Gilded Age, Artorius, and Ain’t Life Grand followed, while Preakness (G1) winner Early Voting was eased through the stretch.
Despite tough losses as the favorite in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness, back-to-back wins in the Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers during the Saratoga meet have made Epicenter the clear favorite to be named champion three-year-old male for 2022. He’s outfinished Cyberknife three times this season, Zandon four times, and made amends in the Travers for his loss to Rich Strike in the Derby. He’s also beaten Early Voting in two of their three meetings.
“I thought that answered a lot of questions,” Asmussen said. “His resume looks very good and we’re willing to run against them again.”
“One of the reasons Steve mentioned we came here is knowing we ran second in the Derby and the Preakness and one of the few horses – the favorite – and not having a Grade 1,” owner Ron Winchell said. “This was a very natural step of where we had to go. We had to beat some of the best in the class to obtain the championship and obtain one of our goals.”
The Travers was the fourth stakes win on the year for Epicenter, who captured the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) after a season-opening loss by a neck in the Lecomte (G3). He started the four-race stretch at Fair Grounds on Dec. 26, winning the Gun Runner S. in his juvenile finale. His record now stands at 10-6-3-0, $2,940,000
“As good as he ran in the Jim Dandy off the freshening, we’re very confident to do either,” said Asmussen when asked whether Epicenter would have another race before the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland.
Bred in Kentucky by Westwind Farms, and a $260,000 Keeneland September purchase, Epicenter is by Not This Time and out of the stakes-winning Silent Candy, a daughter of Candy Ride.