Preakness Notes: Epicenter Capable Of ‘Brilliance,’ Skippy ‘Improving’ Each Race

Winchell Racing’s Epicenter, the 6-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $1.65 million Preakness Stakes (G1), jogged a mile around Pimlico Race Course’s oval early Wednesday, his first morning in town after vanning from Louisville.

“He’s traveling really well. It seems like his energy level is good,” said Scott Blasi, chief assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, who left the track early to watch horses work at Fasig-Tipton‘s Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale at Timonium. “He’s bounced out of the Derby with relative ease and made the ship fine. Just trying to get settled in and get our schooling done and run Saturday.”

Blasi said Epicenter will school in the starting gate during training Thursday and then school in the paddock during the races.

Epicenter was also the favorite in the Kentucky Derby (G1) off impressive victories in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2). The son of Not This Time seemed home free in the Derby in deep stretch when it appeared clear that Zandon was not going to get past him, only to have the late-running Rich Strike shoot past him on the rail to win by three-quarters of a length at 80-1 odds.

“The only way I can explain it is it just wasn’t meant to be,” Blasi said, adding of the torrid pace that included the first-quarter mile in a Derby-record 21.78 seconds, “I don’t think anybody saw those fractions coming the first three-quarters of a mile of the race. The race fell apart a little bit, as it should have. It just is what it is. If you don’t learn to turn the page in this game, you’re going to have a lot of sleepless nights.

“The Derby is an event, a 20-horse race under circumstances they’ll never have to be in ever again. Just one of those things. First one to the wire wins, like Steve always says. Didn’t happen.”

As far as watching the final furlong – with Rich Strike still four lengths behind Epicenter, who was a length ahead of Zandon – Blasi reflected: “I was more focused on him and the other horse. They’d gotten into a duel, and I really didn’t see the other horse coming, to be honest, until I watched the replay.”

The ultimate outcome aside, there was a lot to love about Epicenter’s performance under jockey Joel Rosario. Epicenter settled into eighth in the early stages to be farther back than he’d ever been in a race, willingly accommodating Rosario’s cues to move through horses and patiently waiting for a spot to open rounding out of the far turn.

“Joel gave him a great trip from the 3-hole, not the easiest position to be in,” Blasi said. “He was able to save ground and tip out at the quarter pole and ran to the wire. We were probably just a little close to a fast pace, but that’s just how it is.

“… To be honest with you, it’s over. There are no re-dos. There’s one Derby a year. We were proud of our horse and how he ran,” he added. “Congratulations to the winner.”

Epicenter will break from Post #8 in the Preakness Stakes, which Rich Strike and Zandon are skipping.

“We absolutely love the horse,” Blasi said. “He’s extremely talented. We’re lucky to have him. He’s been very consistent in his training, very workmanlike, shows up and does his job. That’s the great thing about horses like that, the consistency of them.”

If that workmanlike persona isn’t flashy, Blasi said, “I think we’ve seen brilliance out of him. I think he could have won the Louisiana Derby by as far as he wanted. Joel geared him down a little bit because he was already in front by 2 ½, three lengths – taking care of the horse…. Most good horses go and do their job. The kind you have to go out and wrestle with, it doesn’t usually work out too well. He’s got the physical and the mental, which is what usually makes a good horse

Early Voting Gets Acquainted with Pimlico Racetrack

Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting, made his first visit to the track at Pimlico Race Course Wednesday morning, a day after shipping in from trainer Chad Brown’s stable at Belmont Park,

Early Voting, rated second at 7-2 in the morning line, will start from Post #5 Saturday when the Preakness Stakes (G1) is contested for the 147th time. Regular rider Jose Ortiz will be aboard.

Brown’s assistant Baldo Hernandez is overseeing the colt’s activities until Brown arrives Friday. With his regular exercise rider Marino Garcia up, Early Voting went out to the track at 8:30 a.m., following the renovation break.

“He galloped a mile and a quarter. I was really happy with him coming home,” Hernandez said. “He likes it here, so he’s in good shape.”

The Preakness will be Early Voting’s first start away from Aqueduct, where he broke his maiden, won the Withers (G3) and finished second by a neck in the Wood Memorial (G2). Brown and Klaravich owner Seth Klarman opted to skip the Kentucky Derby (G1) to focus on the Preakness, which they won in 2017 with Cloud Computing using the same script.

“He’s moved forward from the Wood. He got the time off,” Hernandez said. “He’s in good shape.”

Hernandez said that Early Voting will go to the track at the same time Thursday.

Alex Sano: ‘It’s Like a Movie that Never Ends’

Alex Sano looked on as Tami Bobo and Tristan De Meric’s Simplification galloped 1 ½ miles Wednesday morning at Pimlico Race Course in preparation for a start in Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1).

The 25-year-old son of trainer Antonio Sano derived a special appreciation for the long-striding son of Not This Time’s morning exercise.

“Before I went to veterinary school, I used to see a horse and say, ‘It looks pretty,’ Now, I see a horse inside and out. I see the ligaments, the tendons, the bones, the muscles– the anatomy and how everything works,” Sano said. “That for me is priceless. Knowing the mechanics of how a horse functions is awesome. It’s like watching a movie that never ends.”

The younger Sano is in his final year at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, anxious to begin a career that most likely will involve the Thoroughbred industry.

“I finish the first week in May [2023] and then I plan to spend a year in Lexington [Ky.] doing racetrack and sales work,” he said. “With a year of practice under my belt, I want to be confident as I can when I go out on my own. I think it will be worth it.”

The veterinary student became thoroughly enchanted with the Thoroughbred during the years his father campaigned the $5.5 million earner, Gunnevera, who competed in the 2017 Triple Crown, finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and fifth in the Preakness.

“I’m so proud of my father and his success,” he said of Antonio Sano, who emigrated from Venezuela in 2009 and has established himself as one of the most prominent trainers in South Florida.

Simplification, who closed from 15th to fourth with a very wide rally in the Kentucky Derby, is rated fourth in the Preakness morning line at 6-1.

Lukas Looks Back at First Preakness Win

With Secret Oath, his record-extending 46th Preakness starter, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will try to defeat top male 3-year-olds with a distinguished filly. As a Preakness (G1) rookie 42 years ago, Lukas wrote a different story, beating the heralded Genuine Risk – the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) in 65 years and just the second in history – with Codex.

Lukas, 86, talked about his first appearance in the Triple Crown, a series he later dominated, Wednesday morning a couple of hours after Secret Oath had a routine gallop on the track at Pimlico Race Course in preparation for Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

“I turned out to be the bad guy,” Lukas said. “Before the race, I was the unknown guy, some cowboy who came in here and brought a horse. That was the story. After the race, half of America thought I was a bad guy. All the women.”

Lukas and Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. were vilified after Codex carried Genuine Risk wide, allegedly bumping her in the second turn and entering the stretch. Codex went on to beat Genuine Risk by 4 ¾ lengths. Genuine Risk’s rider Jacinto Vasquez filed an objection, claiming foul, that the stewards did not allow.

“But the emotion was there anyhow,” Lukas said. “The Derby darling got beat soundly here.”

The Maryland Racing Commission promptly launched an investigation and conducted hearings that Lukas said lasted several days. He said he took a helicopter in from Belmont Park to Pimlico daily to attend the hearings.

Lukas said that a series of still images were matched against the film of the race, a pan angle from the side, proved that Codex had not fouled Genuine Risk.

“We knew right where it was and they never did touch,” Lukas said. “He herded her out, but they didn’t touch. The lawyer said we found the smoking gun. When they came in that day with those still photos that they put it on the big screen, you could run it over and over and you could tell everything was identical to the pan.”

Lukas acknowledged that Cordero tried and succeeded in getting a tactical advantage.

“Cordero knew that she didn’t want to go inside. For some reason Genuine Risk didn’t want to run inside of horses. So, typical Cordero, he gave her the inside,” Lukas said. “If you stopped the film at the quarter pole, you could have driven a big semi in there. (Vasquez) elected not to jump in that hole. So, he went out. He was going to go around Codex. He wouldn’t have gone around Codex because we were just starting to run, but he thought he could. Cordero just moved over. He was in the 6-, 7-hole; she was in the 8-hole.”

Lukas said he appreciated the circumstances this week – a reversal of the 1980 Preakness, the possibility of winning the Preakness with a filly.

“Absolutely, it would be sweet. That’s why we’re here,” he said. “Filly. Colt. Government mule. I don’t care. I’m here to win the thing.”

Skippylongstocking Assistant Has Come a Long Way

Assistant trainer Washonn Rochester led Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking from the Preakness Stakes Barn to the racetrack at Pimlico Race Course Wednesday morning for the son of Exaggerator’s morning gallop in preparation for a start in Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1).

The 24-year-old assistant trainer has come a long way in the six years he has worked for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.

“He’s been teaching me a lot. When I started working for him, I didn’t know how to put a halter on,” Rochester said.

Rochester, who was born in Barbados, has known Joseph a lot longer than the time he has been employed by him.

“Saffie was my neighbor in Barbados when I was 9, 10, and he’d invite me to go watch the races,” Rochester said. “A couple years after that I moved to North Carolina and went to high school. After I graduated, one day Saffie gave me a call and said ‘Hey, what are you doing?’”

Joseph, who saddled Areyoutalkintome for a sweep of the 2009 Barbados Triple Crown, has established himself as the leading trainer at Gulfstream Park since venturing to South Florida in 2011.

“I went to South Florida. I liked it and said, ‘I’m staying.’ I hotwalked for him and picked up a side job at valet parking on the frontside,” Rochester said.

Rochester worked his way up to foreman and has served as an assistant trainer for the past three years.

“For a young guy, he’s very responsible. A lot of young people aren’t responsible and don’t like to work,” Joseph said. “Washonn isn’t afraid to work.”

The highlight thus far during Rochester’s tenure as assistant trainer was visiting the Belmont winner’s circle with Drain the Clock following the Joseph trainee’s victory in the 2021 Woody Stephens (G1) on the Belmont Stakes (G1) undercard. He’s hoping to join his boss and former neighbor in the Pimlico winner’s circle following the Preakness.

“Skippy has been improving as each race goes by. He likes the distance. He’s growing into himself. He’s becoming more mature and classy as he gets along,” Rochester said. “I think he’ll run a great race in the Preakness.”

Skippylongstocking, rated at 20-1 in the Preakness morning line, finished third in the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.

Creative Minister Owners Take $150,000 Gamble

The owners of Creative Minister paid $150,000 to make the steel-gray colt eligible to run in Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1). That’s just $30,000 less than what they paid for Creative Minister at Keeneland’s 2020 September yearling sale.

The reason for the pricey supplemental entry fee is that Creative Minister was not nominated to the Triple Crown. In fact, the Creative Cause colt was still more than a month from running when the Jan. 29 deadline to make a 3-year-old an early nominee for $600 for the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness and Belmont Stakes (G1) came around. When the late nominations closed, for $6,000 per horse on March 29, he had raced only once, a close second.

With the supplemental entry fee tacked on to the purse, the Preakness will be worth $1.65 million. The owners can recoup their entry investment with a top-three finish in the 1 3/16-mile Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course

To co-owner Greg Back, the risk-reward ratio justifies the expense. Back and Paul Fireman’s Fern Circle Stables own 45 percent apiece of Creative Minister, with trainer Kenny McPeek staying in for 10 percent, meaning he’s anteing up $15,000 himself toward the supplemental fee.

A Boston-based entrepreneur and humanitarian, Fireman built Reebok into a global player as chairman and CEO before selling the athletic shoe company to Adidas for a reported $3.8 billion in 2005. Back got back into horse racing after selling the trucking company he co-owned five years ago.

“We’ve just been seeing how he’s progressing,” Back, speaking by phone, said of Creative Minister, who makes his stakes debut in the Preakness. “We think he’s going to progress in this race as well. Normally, they can have big jumps in races one through six or seven, and this is only his fourth race. How many times do you get to go to the Preakness with a horse that actually is getting respect?

“I’m a gambler at heart… I think we have a very good chance to hit the board, and I actually think he could pull it off,” he added. “It just depends if some of these other horses get tired and he can make the run he likes to make.”

Back was itching to go big-game hunting after Creative Minister won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G1) undercard in his second start. The owner had the $500,000 Pat Day Mile (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day in mind, but McPeek didn’t want to drop back to a one-turn race and pushed to instead run in an entry-level allowance race the same day.

“After that, I said, ‘we’ll do whatever you want,’” McPeek said.

Which was run in the Preakness.

Back says it was maybe an hour after the Churchill Downs race when the Preakness discussion began. Back said he was further motivated by preliminary Equibase speed figures, with Creative Minister ultimately being assigned a 108 – compared with the 106 for Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike.

“He ran that incredible race in the allowance, and Kenny said, ‘This horse has as much talent as my other stakes horses. If you guys want to go, we can go,’” Back recalled. “I mean, the speed figure did everything for me. I knew he was a talented horse. But when you start running a 108, you can compete with anybody.”

He said someone else actually first brought up the Preakness.

“I don’t remember who the guy was, but he said, ‘Well, put him in the Preakness,’” Back said. “I turned to Kenny and said, ‘Preakness!’ He hemmed and hawed just a little bit and said, ‘You know what? If you’re willing to pay the fee, I think he could have a chance.’ Then we researched everything and found out how much the fee was, and we made the decision.

“I’m so excited, I can’t wait,” he added.

McPeek, who won the COVID-delayed 2020 Preakness with the filly Swiss Skydiver over Kentucky Derby winner and eventual Horse of the Year Authentic, is scheduled to be at Pimlico Thursday morning. In the meantime, exercise rider Danny Ramsey oversaw Creative Minister’s first day of training at Pimlico after vanning from Louisville on Tuesday.

Ramsey had planned to take Creative Minister to the track right after the mid-morning renovation break. But the horse had other ideas.

“He was jumping around,” Ramsey said. “I walked him this morning because he was feeling so good. I walked him 35, close to 40 minutes. I thought that would settle him down a bit. And bam. He started jumping and feeling good, so I said to the groom, ‘Let’s put the saddle on him and take him to the track.’

“It’s typical of him. I gallop him at Churchill, and he’s jumping around and feeling good. I thought the trip might have settled him down a little bit,” he added. “The trip didn’t take anything out of him.”

Armagnac Enters Pimlico off Confidence-Builder

Fresh off a Tuesday cross-country trip from Southern California, Armagnac hit the ground running at Pimlico Race Course Wednesday.

The son of Quality Road made his first appearance at Pimlico just after 8:30 Wednesday morning, galloping about a mile for trainer Tim Yakteen. The horse arrived at Pimlico Tuesday evening.

“Just an easy gallop,” Yakteen said. “He traveled well. He looked good out there. They all look good out there.”

He was referring to the other horses who are preparing for Saturday’s 147th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1). Armagnac, owned by SF Racing and partners, last ran on May 8, winning an allowance race at Santa Anita. It was the best performance of his five-race career. Armagnac went gate to wire in the 1 1/16-mile race that followed a fourth-place finish in the April 9 Santa Anita Derby (G1).

Armagnac finished 12 ½ lengths behind stablemate Taiba in the Santa Anita Derby. Second in that race was Messier, also from Yakteen’s barn. Happy Jack, another Preakness entrant, was third, a neck in front of Armagnac.

The decision to ship to Baltimore came after the score in the allowance race.

“We were able to drop him down in competition and just get him set up with a field that would be sort of a confidence booster for him,” Yakteen said. “I think we accomplished that. He broke away with a clean break and got into a nice little rhythm.”

When the gates open in the Preakness, it would seem likely that Armagnac and new rider Irad Ortiz Jr. would look for the lead. When asked about that Wednesday morning, Yakteen smiled and revealed nothing.

“I can’t give you my secrets here,” he said. “I’ve got to keep something to ourselves,”

Armagnac, who is 12-1 in the Preakness morning line. will continue his preparations when he returns to the Pimlico track Thursday morning at 8:30.

Happy Jack Has Day of Rest after Overnight Travel

Wednesday was a day of rest after a night of travel for Calumet Farm’s Happy Jack.

After vanning from Churchill Downs in Louisville to Pimlico Race Course overnight, Happy Jack was more than happy just to chill in his stall at Barn D, away from the Stakes Barn. That’s where he will be for the days leading up to Saturday’s 147th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1).

Happy Jack, who is 30-1 in the Preakness morning line, arrived at Pimlico at 4 a.m. Wednesday after leaving Churchill at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Included in the travel party was Sabas Rivera, a barn foreman for trainer Doug O’Neill.

“He is tired right now,” Rivera said. “He is taking a little siesta. He is a good shipper. He doesn’t really care about anything. It doesn’t bother him if he’s here or there. Just nice and quiet.”

Happy Jack was laying down in Stall 14, getting the day off after his long trip. Rivera said the Calumet homebred will hit the Pimlico track Thursday morning at about 6:30.

Rivera admitted he was a little tired himself and a nap was definitely in his future Wednesday afternoon.

Happy Jack is one of three horses running in the Preakness that competed in the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 7. He was 14th in the Run for the Roses, his fourth straight loss since breaking his maiden Jan. 22 at Santa Anita. The Derby was the first race for the colt outside of California.

In the Preakness, trainer Doug O’Neill will put the blinkers back on Happy Jack. He had worn them in three of his first four starts before O’Neill took them off for the Derby.

O’Neill said he is scheduled to fly to Baltimore from California Wednesday night and will be at the barn some time Thursday afternoon.

Preakness is ‘A Big Deal’ for McKathan

Veteran horseman Kevin McKathan welcomed Fenwick to Pimlico Race Course upon the colt’s arrival from Kentucky Wednesday morning.

Co-owned by Villa Rosa Farm and Harlo Stable, Fenwick shipped overnight from Churchill Downs and was bedded down at the Preakness Stakes Barn. McKathan said that the son of Curlin will go to the track when it opens at 6 a.m. Thursday morning.

Fenwick was expected to be entered in the Sir Barton for 3-year-olds on the undercard of the Preakness Stakes (G1), but his connections decided to go into the Preakness instead. Canadian businessman Jeremia Rudan is the majority owner of the colt, who was winless in four starts for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. After a 24 ¾-length defeat at Fair Grounds on Feb. 13, Fenwick was sent back to the McKathan’s training center in Ocala, Fla. where he had been broken and prepared for the track.

McKathan, who had not trained a horse on the track since the late 1980s, prepared him for an easy win in a March 12 maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs for which he was saddled by David Fisher. McKathan saddled Fenwick for a last-place finish in the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland, in which he encountered traffic issues at the start. When it was decided to send Fenwick to the Preakness, McKathan, who is selling four horses at the nearby Timonium 2-year-old sale next week, decided to remain the trainer of record.

“I’ve always considered I’ve been training [all along],” he said. “It’s just that this is an opportunity that presented itself. It’s kind of like, ‘If we’re going to run, and we’re going to try to run in a Triple Crown race, why not run him in my own name instead of just putting someone on the program that I send him to?’

“You know, that is a big deal for me. Am I going to have 40 horses at Belmont? No. Am I going to have a barn in Saratoga? No. I’m going to continue to do what I do,” McKathan added. “But to have an opportunity to take one of these babies all the way and see it through, good, bad or ugly, it’s kind of neat to be a part of it.”

The post Preakness Notes: Epicenter Capable Of ‘Brilliance,’ Skippy ‘Improving’ Each Race appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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