May 26, 2024

Epicenter favored over seven rivals in Travers

Epicenter winning the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga (Photo by Coglianese Photos)

After reclaiming the lead in the race for the three-year-old championship in last month’s Jim Dandy (G2), Epicenter will look to extend his advantage Saturday in the $1.25 million Travers S. (G1) at Saratoga.

Although the beaten favorite in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), Epicenter has never been worse than second in six starts this term. He made amends for his Preakness loss to Early Voting by beating that rival in the Jim Dandy, and in the Travers will look to make good on his surprise loss in the Derby to 80-1 longshot Rich Strike.

“Nothing but respect for some extremely good three-year-olds, but I think we have the right one,” trainer Steve Asmussen said after Tuesday’s Travers post position draw. “He’s arguably the best three-year-old in the division despite not having a Grade 1 win that he needs.”

Epicenter, the 7-5 morning line favorite, previously won the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2). He’ll break from post 6 in the 1 1/4-mile test.

Blue Grass (G1) winner Zandon has finished behind Epicenter in all three of their meetings this year, most recently garnering runner-up honors in the Jim Dandy in his first start since finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. Besides Zandon, trainer Chad Brown also saddles Early Voting, who disappointingly trailed home last of four in the Jim Dandy despite having been the lone speed, and the lightly-raced Artorius, comfortable winner of the restricted Curlin S. last out.

Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike was a non-factor in his only interim start, a sixth-place effort in the Belmont S. (G1), though trainer Eric Reed said he was partially to blame.

“I think I kind of messed up the Belmont with my instructions and I don’t think he cared for the track,” Reed said. “He trained good there but he worked so much harder than he normally does to do what he does so easily everywhere else.”

Likely to be more popular with bettors is Cyberknife. The Brad Cox trainee has had only one blip in his last four stakes appearances, that being an 18th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Gun Runner has won the others, including the Arkansas Derby (G1) and the Haskell (G1) last out in a track-record performance.

The longshots in the field are Ain’t Life Grand, the Iowa Derby winner, and Curlin runner-up Gilded Age.