If going 4-2-0 in his first seven races is merely a warm-up for Epicenter, as trainer Steve Asmussen alluded to on Tuesday, we are apparently in for some kind of blockbuster main event at Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
“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 told the Maryland Jockey Club. “We expect this is just the beginning of his racing career.”
Asmussen says this while mindful that since a sixth-place career debut in a Churchill Downs maiden special weight last September, Epicenter hasn’t missed the exacta. He’s less than a length away from running the table in those six races.
Those blips? A head defeat to 28/1 Call Me Midnight in January’s Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and the three-quarters length upset to 80/1 Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby. Both times, Epicenter didn’t lose the race. He was simply beaten by a better horse on a given day, albeit in freak-show fashion.
Epicenter brings the most to the gate
Asmussen, though, is curious to see what transpires in Saturday’s Preakness. There, Epicenter is the 6/5 morning-line favorite and, by all accounts, the best horse in the field. He has the best career Beyer Speed Figure with a 102. His Equibase is tied for second with Secret Oath (105).
He brings the most complete running style into the field. Epicenter won his four races in a variety of styles: from the front, as a presser, and as a stalker. He also brings the best resume into the Preakness with victories against most of the top 3-year-olds in his class.
Epicenter won three of Fair Grounds’ four Derby preps in the Gun Runner, the Risen Star, and the Louisiana Derby. He was the Derby favorite leaving the gate (4.10/1) and was an easy Preakness morning-line favorite.
New shooters hitting the Preakness target
Epicenter’s resume speaks volumes in a race devoid of depth, but lately, the Preakness hasn’t played along with the script. Three of the last five Preakness winners, Cloud Computing (13/1-2017), Swiss Skydiver (11/1-2020), and Rombauer (11/1-2021), left the gate at double-digit odds.
All three were “new shooters,” meaning they parachuted into the Preakness without running the Derby. According to Horse Racing Nation, a new shooter has hit the Preakness board every year since 2014. In five of those years (2015, 2017, 2019-21) new shooters filled two of the three board places.
Asmussen thinks he has Epicenter ready to answer the challenge from new shooters Secret Oath and Early Voting. Those are the two most formidable newcomers in the field, but they have company. Only Epicenter, Simplification, and Happy Jack in the nine-horse Preakness field arrive from the Derby.
Epicenter’s last start before the May 7 Derby was the March 26 Louisiana Derby.
Asmussen plotted a wise course
“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.”
So, obviously, is Epicenter’s future. But with the colt he has and the talent Epicenter has shown, Asmussen is much less concerned about that.