Epicenter was denied the Kentucky Derby in the spring, but now his trainer Steve Asmussen hopes the colt will capture the “Midsummer Derby” in this Saturday’s Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
A hundred yards from the Churchill Downs finish line on May 7, Epicenter looked like he would soon wear a garland of red roses. But a hundred yards later, it was Rich Strike who got the garland of roses, not Epicenter, dashing the Kentucky Derby dreams of Asmussen – the country’s winningest trainer whose résumé includes wins in the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
As it turns out, Asmussen has yet to win a Travers Stakes, too. But he’s in good company; according to Daily Racing Form’s David Grening, just one of the trainers entering horses in this year’s Midsummer Derby, Brad Cox, previously saddled a Travers Stakes champion.
So Asmussen and Epicenter have to fight off history and seven other horses — including the longshot Derby winner Rich Strike, Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting, and Haskell Stakes champion Cyberknife — if they hope to get to the Saratoga winner’s circle this weekend and earn a garland of red and white carnations.
He’ll also have to fend off the challenge of embattled trainer Chad Brown, who enters three horses in the Travers, led by Early Voting. Brown was recently arrested on an obstruction of breathing charge in an alleged domestic violence incident, but he continues to train while the case remains under investigation.
The Travers Stakes
Saturday, Aug. 27
Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Springs, NY
Purse: $1.25 million
Distance: 1 ¼ Miles
Conditions: Three year old colts and geldings
TV: Fox (Coverage from 4:30-6 p.m.)
Analysis and picks
Judging by the past performances of the field, there’s no clear speed in the race other than the front-running Early Voting, and he was terribly exposed last out in the Jim Dandy when he got an easy lead, then flattened out in the stretch to finish last in the four-horse field.
It’s starting to look as if Early Voting’s victory in the Preakness might have been something of an aberration, aided by a speed-favoring Pimlico track and Epicenter getting a terrible trip. Maybe a tactical change could help Early Voting, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see if Jose Ortiz tries something different here.
Nevertheless, the attention should go to Epicenter and Cyberknife. Both ran solid races last out; in fact, they each got the same Beyer speed figure (102) for their wins in the 9-furlong Jim Dandy and Haskell Stakes, respectively.
Cyberknife ran his Haskell two seconds faster than Epicenter, and charged through on the inside in the stretch after getting the one-post. Epicenter was as game as they come in the Jim Dandy, stalking the front throughout the race before accelerating in the stretch and pulling away.
But of the two horses, Cyberknife has shown stark improvement off the Kentucky Derby, where he got caught in major traffic and finished 18th. He showed heart with a gutsy win in the Matt Winn Stakes just before his Haskell triumph — and he’s proven to be a much faster horse than he was when he won the Arkansas Derby back in April.
That momentum makes him a real threat — perhaps the only real threat in this field — to knock off Epicenter.
Epicenter will likely go off at lower than even money. Even Cyberknife could flirt with lower odds as well, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll go off less than 9-5. And if you get Cyberknife at his morning-line odds or better, then you’ve got yourself a steal.
Definitely consider Cyberknife and Epicenter in your exacta bets.
If you like a live longshot, well, how about Rich Strike? He’s been training well leading up to the Travers. The lengthy layoff from his Belmont Stakes disaster makes him fresh, and at a racetrack notorious for upsets in major stakes races, Rich Strike could find his way into the history books again.
At the very least, consider him in your exotics. Sorry, he won’t be 81-1 this time around.
Our picks: Cyberknife, Epicenter, Rich Strike