Favored Epicenter Draws Post 8 for Preakness

Favored Epicenter Draws Post 8 for Preakness

For all of the shock waves produced by an 80-1 winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) followed by the Triple Crown becoming a moot point less than a week later, the May 21 Preakness Stakes (G1) has managed to retain some drama.

Even with upstart Run for the Roses winner Rich Strike  passing on the $1.5 million Preakness in favor of the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), the presence of Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath  among a field of nine 3-year-olds has created the potential for a lively battle of the sexes at aging Pimlico Race Course.

The filly Secret Oath, Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter , and intriguing “new shooter” Early Voting  were the at center of attention at the May 16 draw for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown and the standouts in the morning line.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter was tabbed as the morning-line choice at 6-5 and landed post 8 with Withers Stakes (G3) winner Early Voting drawing post 5 (7-2 odds) and Secret Oath getting post 4 (9-2).

The rest of the field, from the rail out, includes: Simplification  (post 1, 6-1), Creative Minister  (2, 10-1), Fenwick  (3, 50-1), Happy Jack  (6, 20-1), Armagnac  (7, 12-1), Skippylongstocking  (9, 20-1).

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Epicenter was the 4-1 favorite in the May 7 Kentucky Derby and, despite moving into a testing 1:10.34 pace, seemed a winner in the final sixteenth as he repulsed a stretch bid from Zandon . But before the all-time winningest North American trainer, Steve Asmussen, could collect his initial Run for the Roses victory, Rich Strike surged into contention inside of the dueling leaders and then motored past them late to notch a jaw-dropping three-quarters-of-a-length win over Winchell’s son of Not This Time  .

“The Winchell family has won races all over the country and won a few in Europe, but the three classics have eluded us up to this point,” said David Fiske, racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds. “Thought we had won (May 7). We were second in the Preakness last year (with Midnight Bourbon ). We were third with Tenfold  in (2018 Triple Crown winner) Justify  ‘s year. We’re sneaking up on it. Maybe we can complete the set of collector coins.”

Fiske said post 8 should work out well for Epicenter.

“The draw is fine, he gets to load almost last. With his running style, where he can be forwardly placed and run behind horses, he would be fine anywhere,” he said,

Fiske admitted he was taken aback a bit by the oddsmaker’s 6-5 price on the Kentucky Derby runner-up.

“I was a little surprised because I had not heard anyone making him that short of a price. I guess it’s a sign of confidence.”

Epicenter, bred in Kentucky by Westwind Farms, has won four of seven starts, with victories in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2), which was contested at the same 1 3/16-mile distance as the Preakness, and Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2). 

Photo: Rick Samuels

Secret Oath after her win in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs

Briland Farm’s homebred Secret Oath tackled the boys before, finishing a troubled third in the Arkansas Derby (G1) last month at Oaklawn Park. As draining as that effort might have seemed, the sport’s living legend, 86-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas, had her back in peak form for the Oaks.

Though the daughter of the late Arrogate was the co-third choice in a top-heavy Oaks field, she handled her 13 distaff rivals with verve, winning by two lengths under new rider Luis Saez over favored Nest  for Lukas’ record-matching fifth Oaks victory.

“We discussed it thoroughly (with the owners),” Lukas said. “We kind of researched who was going and who might be going, trying to get a feel for the race. (We) checked her another day and found that she was full of life and playing out there. So we decided we’d take a shot and go.”

Secret Oath will try to become the seventh filly to win the Preakness and the second in three editions. Swiss Skydiver  pulled an upset in 2020.

Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting had enough qualifying points to run in the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Chad Brown opted to reserve the speedy son of Gun Runner   for the Preakness and sent out Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner Zandon  in the opening leg of the Triple Crown, where he finished third.

“He’s training really well and the spacing works for him. He’s appreciated a little bit more time,” Brown said about the runner-up in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2). “If he goes into the Preakness the way he’s been training, he has a pretty good shot in there.”

Early Voting (outside) and Miles D - Belmont Park, May 13, 2022
Photo: Coglianese Photos

Early Voting (outside) breezes in company with Miles D May 13 at Belmont Park

With his horse figuring to be on the early lead or just off it, Brown had no problem with him breaking in the middle of the field from post 5.

“It seems like a comfortable spot,” the four-time Eclipse Award winner said. “He’s normally a good gate horse. Hopefully he breaks well, and we’ll let (jockey Jose Ortiz) take it from there.”

Should Early Voting capture the Preakness, it would give Brown and Klaravich boss Seth Klarman their second classic win and mirror the path of their 2017 Preakness winner Cloud Computing  , who also jumped from the Wood to the Preakness. Cloud Computing finished in third in the Wood Memorial.

Bred by Three Chimneys Farm, Early Voting has raced only three times, winning twice.

Secret Oath and Early Voting are among six entrants who did not start in the Kentucky Derby. Known as “new shooters” in the Preakness, these newcomers to the Triple Crown are seeking a third straight win and fourth in six years after a stretch of nine wins in 10 years by Run for the Roses starters.

Tami Bobo and Tristan de Meric’s Simplification took advantage of the brutal pace to close from 15th and finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Not This Time  , trained by Antonio Sano, has been remarkably consistent, winning the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and winning or placing in three of four graded stakes.

Sano was fine with his late-running 3-year-old breaking from the rail. 

Simplification - Morning - CD - 050322
Photo: Coady Photography

Simplification trains ahead of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

“I have no problem with the post,” Sano said. “The speed horses are outside of him. He has room behind the speed to run.”

Calumet Farm’s Happy Jack is the third Kentucky Derby starter to wheel back in two weeks for the Preakness. 

A homebred son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow  , Happy Jack was rather downbeat in the Run for the Roses as he found himself last in the field of 20 after the opening half-mile and wound up 14th. Prior to that he was a more promising third in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) for trainer Doug O’Neill.

“We did a bunch of diagnostics on him, pulled blood. He is checking all the boxes of a horse that exited his recent race in good shape. We like the Preakness distance, and we like a shorter field than the 20 horses in the Derby,” O’Neill said. “Oh, by the way, his sire, Oxbow, won this race, and that is kind of a cool thing.”

Calumet Farm holds the records for Preakness wins by an owner and breeder, with seven in both categories.

The field also includes Santa Anita allowance optional claimer winner Armagnac (Quality Road  ), who previously was trained by the suspended Bob Baffert and finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby; Creative Minister (Creative Cause  ), an allowance optional claiming winner for trainer Ken McPeek on the Kentucky Derby undercard; Skippylongstocking, a son of 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator   who was third in the Wood; and Fenwick (Curlin  ), who was 11th in the Blue Grass Stakes.

Un Ojo  was not entered due to a recurring foot bruise.

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