Owner Ron Winchell and trainer Steve Asmussen teamed up for a third win in the $400,000 Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds on Saturday when Epicenter led wire-to-wire in the 1 1/8-mile test for three-year-olds.
Unlike the connections' two prior winners, Pyro (2008) and Gun Runner (2016), Epicenter entered the Risen Star off an earlier prep this season in the Lecomte (G3). The pace the son of Not This Time set in the Lecomte proved a little too quick, though, as he was run down by longshot Call Me Midnight in the final strides.
On Saturday, Epicenter set a slightly slower pace of :23.79, :47.97, and 1:12.25, which left the colt with plenty in reserve. Indeed, after opening up by more than four lengths in mid-stretch, Epicenter won geared down by 2 3/4 lengths under Joel Rosario in a time of 1:49.03 over a fast track. The 7-2 second choice, Epicenter paid $9.
Smile Happy, the 2-1 favorite, ran well in his first start since taking a key edition of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs in late November, rallying for second by a half-length over Zandon. The latter beat longshot Pioneer of Medina for third by a head.
The order of finish was rounded out by Tawny Port, Slow Down Andy, Trafalgar, Pappacap, Bodock, and Russian Tank.
Epicenter, who captured the inaugural Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds in December prior to his second-place finish in the Lecomte, earned 50 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) and is virtually assured a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. He now has a total of 64 points.
Smile Happy, who suffered his first loss in three starts, earned 20 points and now has 30 in total. Zandon earned 10 points, boosting his total to 14, while Pioneer of Medina earned his initial five points.
Epicenter now possesses a record of 5-3-1-1, $410,639, and is expected to point to the March 26 Louisiana Derby (G2) over 1 3/16 miles. Bred in Kentucky by Westwind Farm, he was produced by the stakes-winning Silent Candy, by Candy Ride, and brought $260,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.