Epicenter stated his case for Travers favoritism in the Jim Dandy (Photo by Coglianese Photos)
Runner-up as the favorite in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), Epicenter returned to the winner’s column in Saturday’s $558,000 Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga. But fans of the 11-10 favorite might not have expected the way he won this stepping stone to the Aug. 27 Travers (G1).
The Jim Dandy shaped up as a tactical race, with only four runners. Epicenter’s chief opponent, Preakness winner Early Voting, figured to be an early pace player. But Epicenter had shown speed on the Derby trail at Fair Grounds. Considering how he lost the Preakness
by racing too far back, and giving Early Voting an advantage, Epicenter was expected to return to a more forward style.
Instead, the Steve Asmussen trainee ended up settling last of the quartet. Jockey Joel Rosario was focused on letting the colt find his comfort zone, and Epicenter anchored the group. Still, he remained within striking range, just a few lengths back in the compact field.
Early Voting was let alone on the lead, through steady fractions. His Chad Brown stablemate, Kentucky Derby third Zandon, found himself in a closer tracking role than forecast. The longest shot on the board, the 8.70-1 Tawny Port, raced in a ground-saving third.
Epicenter continued to bring up the rear at the top of the stretch, as Zandon challenged Early Voting on the outside and Tawny Port gained on the rail. Once the confident Rosario gave Epicenter the cue, though, the race was over. The favorite rolled past the battling trio inside the final furlong and crossed the wire by a measured 1 1/2 lengths. Epicenter pricked his ears while clocking 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.99 on a fast, but deep and tiring, track.
“It’s extremely rewarding off two tough races to bring him back in the winner’s circle where we think he belongs,” Asmussen said.
“(Rosario) made a decision early not to try to be squeezed up in there (on the inside). Once he eased him out of that spot, Epicenter was carrying Joel very comfortably the whole way down the backside. I was a little concerned how far back he was, but they threw up the middle fraction, they stayed at 12 (seconds per furlong) and didn’t back it up in his face. He had a shot from there. When he eased him out at the head of the lane, he was traveling really pretty.”
Zandon prevailed for the runner-up spot, a half-length to the good of Tawny Port. Early Voting dropped back to last, the first time he’d ever finished worse than second. Western River was scratched after competing in Friday’s Curlin S., where he checked in fifth behind Brown’s Travers-bound Artorius
Epicenter improved his resume to 9-5-3-0, $2,270,639. The Winchell Thoroughbreds colorbearer nearly swept the Derby preps at Fair Grounds, dominating the Louisiana Derby
(G2) in track-record time along with the Risen Star (G2) and Gun Runner S. He missed by only a head in the Jan. 22 Lecomte (G3), thanks to racing too keenly on the front end, but learned from that experience.
Rosario commented on how Epicenter has progressed over the season.
“Definitely. Seeing the race he put in today, (sitting) behind and waiting for the right time to go on, and he did,” the winning rider said. “We broke and got to the rail, probably not exactly what he wanted but the race played that way and got inside there for a little while. He ran his race but sometimes (it takes) a lot to go that way. He looked relaxed and did everything when I asked, so we look forward for that (the Travers)."
Epicenter reasserted himself as the leading three-year-old colt at this stage. Now that he’s avenged his Preakness loss, he’ll try to take care of similarly unfinished business with Kentucky Derby shocker Rich Strike
in the Travers.