Trailing Cyberknife slightly around the far turn at Saratoga Race Course in Saturday’s Travers Stakes, Joel Rosario tipped Epicenter to the outside and found the perfect striking position.
From there, Epicenter switched to his right lead after a bit of urging from Rosario and found a new gear down the stretch. All business, Epicenter surged past the Haskell champion and cruised to a convincing 5 ¼-length victory. Epicenter crossed the wire in The Travers in 2:00.72, the second-fastest time in the prestigious race in more than 40 years.
Epicenter, the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness, finished second in both Triple Crown races behind Rich Strike and Early Voting, respectively. The 3-year son of Not This Time earned a measure of revenge by handily defeating both in Saturday’s Travers.
Easy Day for Epicenter After Breakthrough Travers Win https://t.co/Hz9mp3UsPD @BobEhalt #BC2022 pic.twitter.com/qbrlS2jwhN
— BloodHorse (@BloodHorse) August 28, 2022
Asked in the post-race press conference how he felt when Epicenter turned for home, trainer Steve Asmussen harkened back to the tense moments down the stretch in the first two jewels of the Triple Crown.
“The best way to describe it is how uncomfortable I was watching the Derby and Preakness,” Asmussen said. “He looked like he had a chance to show who he was. I believe he did.”
Stepping up in class
In easily dismissing Cyberknife and his other main rivals, Epicenter may have locked up the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old Horse of the Year.
Epicenter recorded a career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure while delivering a performance reminiscent of another Asmussen trainee: 2017 Horse of the Year winner Gun Runner. Gun Runner capped his 4-year old season in 2017 with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
If Epicenter triumphs in November’s Classic, he will likely need to defeat a pair of accomplished older horses in Flightline and Life Is Good. Unbeaten in four career starts, Flightline romped to a six-length win in June’s Grade I Metropolitan Handicap. Life Is Good, the reigning Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion, earned a spot in the Classic with a win in the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
“I’m so excited for the opportunity,” Asmussen said. “When you think of the horses this year and how excellent they are, what a great Classic it’ll be if we can get them all lined up.”
After winning the Travers yesterday, Epicenter has hit the board in 7 graded stakes in 2022. That’s tied for the 2nd-most of any Travers winner in the same calendar year since at least 1991. The record of 8 is in reach with 4 months left in ’[email protected] pic.twitter.com/v9YzS0j315
— Pramana (@PramanaLabs) August 28, 2022
When asked if he will train Epicenter up to the Classic, Asmussen demurred. The Grade I Woodward Stakes on Oct. 1 at Aqueduct Racetrack looms as a possibility, or Asmussen can rest Epicenter until the Classic on Nov. 5 at Keeneland.
As with Gun Runner several years ago, Asmussen is training Epicenter for Winchell Thoroughbreds owner Ron Winchell, who appears ready to take on the accomplished older horses.
“I think watching this race would give anyone confidence,” Winchell told US Bets after The Travers. “Of course, when you have confidence, you want to move forward. This is the end of the 3-year old division restrictions. It’s time to step up.”
Breeders’ Cup futures odds
When the first Breeders’ Cup Classic futures wagering pool concluded on Aug. 7, Flightline closed as the decisive 2/1 betting favorite. Bettors wagered more than $205,000 in the pool, a 138% spike from 2018 the last time the Breeders’ Cup offered a futures’ pool on the race. Life Is Good closed as the second choice behind Flightline, with odds of 6/1.
“I think their reputation serves them well. They are pretty special,” Winchell said. “It’s actually good for racing to have this many good horses competing against each other.”
NEWS: Flightline Closes as Favorite in Pool 1 of the @Longines #BreedersCup Classic Future Wager.
Read more: https://t.co/X2kM2HJjJE 🏇 pic.twitter.com/T8eIWzIpb8
— Breeders’ Cup (@BreedersCup) August 8, 2022
Epicenter closed as the third choice at 7/1, just ahead of Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammar at 12/1. Flightline is expected to face Country Grammar in Saturday’s Pacific Classic — his first career start at 10 furlongs.
The all-sources handle at Saratoga for the 13-race Travers card came in at $55.6 million, shattering the previous record at the course by more than $3 million. Nearly 50,000 fans — 49,672 to be exact — passed through the turnstiles on Saturday. The figure represented the highest paid attendance for Travers Day since 2015, according to the New York Racing Association.