Epicenter has proved expensive to follow at the top level but rewarded his supporters in convincing style in the 2022 $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday August 27. Saddled by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds, he was sent off as the evens favorite and won by five and a quarter lengths after being eased by Joel Rosario approaching the wire.
This son of Not This Time was last seen winning the Jim Dandy Stakes at the same track a month ago but that was a Grade 2 and it was high time he gained a Grade 1 victory. Epicenter was the first choice for bettors in the Kentucky Derby at 4/1 but the pace was generous and he was beaten three quarters of a length into second by the more patiently ridden long shot, Rich Strike.
Epicenter was the 6/5 favorite with the stateside racebooks in the Preakness two weeks later. Rosario kept Epicenter towards the rear of the pack but was unable to reel in Chad Brown’s more prominently placed Early Voting. Epicenter was beaten just over a length into second.
Run over a mile and a quarter, in the Travers Epicenter demonstrated his superiority over a multiple winner at the top level, the 9/2 second favorite Cyberknife. Partnered by Florent Geroux and trained by Brad Cox for Gold Square LLC, Cyberknife won the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park by a head on July 23 and the Arkansas Derby by a more easily discernible distance at Oaklawn Park in May.
The third placed Zandon (31/5) in the Travers had a Grade 1 win on his resume too, he triumphed in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April. He finished a nose behind Cyberknife under Flavien Prat with Eric Reed’s Rich Strike (11/1) a neck behind him. Gilded Age (36/1) finished a distant ten lengths behind the winner in fifth followed by Artorius (9/1). Early Voting (7/1) was disappointing and finished last, beaten 64 lengths.
Asmussen was so delighted with his colt’s Midsummer Derby result that he offered to help paint the canoe at the Spa in the maroon and white of Ron Winchell’s silks. Repainting the canoe in the colors of the Travers winner is a tradition at the track.
Epicenter was bred by Westwind Farms out of the Candy Ride mare, Silent Candy who achieved nothing on the track and had not produced anything of note with her five other offspring. He was an outstanding physical specimen and was purchased by Winchell as a yearling at Keeneland for $260,000.
For Winchell it was a dream to win the Travers, he had thrown plenty of top-quality ammunition at the race in previous years but without success. The mighty Gun Runner carried his silks into third place in 2016 and Midnight Bourbon was runner-up in 2021. Having come so close before and finally achieving the dream was particularly special for him and he was delighted that his family were there to share the long-awaited victory.
Travers 2022: What happened in the race?
It was Cyberknife who broke well and took the lead soon after the gates opened, not needing any encouragement from Geroux to make the most of his inside draw. The 27/1 shot Ain’t Life Grand ridden by Tyler Gaffalione broke from gate three and chose to pursue him most closely. Rosario exited from gate six on Epicenter and grabbed the rail behind the leading pair before the first turn. Early Voting was ridden at his flank followed by Rich Strike. Irad Ortiz Jr hugged the rail a length behind them on Artorious. Zandon followed leaving Gilded Age ten lengths off the pace in the rear. They covered the first quarter mile in 23.32.
The running order was mostly maintained as three quarters of a mile was clocked at 1.11.43. Ortiz pushed Early Voting to challenge for third place approaching the final turn but his effort was short-lived and he soon weakened dramatically. Epicenter forged forward to challenge Cyberknife as they entered the stretch. Zandon took third ahead of Rich Strike as they passed the eighth pole and Epicenter surged clear of Cyberknife with minimal encouragement from Rosario.
Rosario said after the race that he just wanted to give Epicenter a good trip and made a great job of doing so. Epicenter pricked his ears after crossing the wire and seemed to have enjoyed his first top level victory too.
A stella card at Saratoga
The Travers was the highlight of the programme but not the only Grade 1 contest on the day. Bettors received a massive shock when Asmussen’s 3/20 favorite, Jackie’s Warrior was beaten into second by Bill Mott’s Cody’s Wish (8/1) in the Forego Stakes, run on the dirt over seven furlongs. There was no immediately obvious reason for the result, Cody’s Wish seemed to be the best horse on the day.
Jack Christopher’s victory in the H Allen Jerkins Stakes run over the same distance provided some reassurance for bettors immediately afterwards. He started as the 11/20 favorite for Chad Brown under Jose Ortiz and beat Asmussen’s Gunite (7/1) a length and a quarter.
Things did not go well for Brown’s next runner on the card. Clairiere was sent off as the 7/4 favorite in the Personal Ensign Stakes, another Grade 1 on the dirt but over the longer distance of a mile and a furlong. This four-year-old daughter of Curlin, owned and bred by Stonestreet Stables, is a multiple Grade 1 winner but was unruly in the gates and finished last, beaten nine and a half lengths. The winner, Todd Pletcher’s Malathaat (16/5) had followed her across the wire on their previous two starts.
A European shipper, Aidan O’Brien’s Broome was the 31/20 favorite to succeed in the following race, the Sword Dancer Stakes, a Grade 1 run over a mile and a half on the turf. He missed the break and was closing rapidly in the stretch but could only finish fourth, beaten half a length by Christophe Clement’s Gufo (22/5).
Saratoga’s stella card provided a rollercoaster ride for bettors but where can they next see Epicenter in action? No clear plans have been mentioned by his connections but the most likely next assignment is the 2022 Breeders’ Cup.