Fiske: ‘Plenty Of Upside’ To Dual Classic-Placed Epicenter – Horse Racing News

Fiske: ‘Plenty Of Upside’ To Dual Classic-Placed Epicenter – Horse Racing News

Epicenter galloping at Pimlico

Winchell Thoroughbreds racing manager and bloodstock advisor David Fiske is hoping that Epicenter can solidify himself as a leader amongst his 3-year-old male counterparts in Saturday’s Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course.

Despite being favored in both the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and Grade 1 Preakness, the Triple Crown run was a frustrating one for Epicenter, finishing second in both American Classics for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who teamed up with Winchell Thoroughbreds to win the 2018 Jim Dandy with Tenfold.

By leading third crop stallion Not This Time, Epicenter was eighth during the early portions of the Kentucky Derby, about six lengths off torrid opening fractions set by Summer Is Tomorrow. Advancing into fifth down the backstretch, Epicenter was in command around the far turn, meeting an outside challenge from Zandon in the stretch drive. But the day belonged to 80-1 longshot Rich Strike, who weaved his way through traffic down the stretch and passed Epicenter to the inside with a sixteenth to run.

Epicenter closed valiantly down the stretch in the Preakness with an inside rush, but came up 1 1/4 lengths short of Early Voting. Epicenter’s connections are now focused on races in the second half of the calendar year, including the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on August 27.

Fiske said he is hopeful that the Jim Dandy, the nine-furlong traditional local prep for the Mid-Summer Derby, will be a good place to start.

“He’s training as well, or better, as he did throughout the Triple Crown races, so we’ll see,” Fiske said. “It seems like everyone is getting better this time of year, and I don’t know that he could be doing any better. Steve is pleased with him. He’s a pretty straight forward horse. I think during the Triple Crown I characterized him as almost machine like. He just does what you want him to do, goes back to his stall and lays down.”

Prior to his run in two-thirds of the Triple Crown, Epicenter secured Derby qualifying victories in Fair Grounds’ Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, both Grade 2. He earned a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his Louisiana Derby victory, defeating eventual Derby rivals Zozos and Pioneer of Medina by three-quarters of a length. He replicated that 102 number in the Preakness.

But despite his triple-digit speed figures, millionaire status and consistent record, Fiske lamented that the colt has yet to win a Grade 1 race.

“It would be incredibly rewarding. I find it interesting that he’s the only [top] 3-year-old without a Grade 1 on his resume. Everyone at the top of the list has one and he’s been close a couple times,” Fiske said. “The margin in the Derby and the Preakness was probably a little more than two-fifths of a second, so that’s disappointing. But we’re pretty confident that at some point in the future there’s a Grade 1 with his name on it.”

Asmussen and Winchell also campaigned 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, who notched his first Grade 1 in the final start of his 3-year-old year, en route to five more Grade 1 wins throughout his career.

“I guess they’re similar, but that would be by circumstance. If not for two-fifths of a second, Epicenter would look like a way better 3-year-old than Gun Runner,” Fiske said. “I think it’s just a situational thing. By circumstance, the two records look similar. We haven’t lost any confidence in him. He’s still the same horse he was for the Triple Crown races. He’s a really sound horse like Gun Runner was, so going forward I would think he still has plenty of upside.”

Bought for $220,000 out of the Bettersworth Westwind Farms consignment at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Epicenter was acquired by his owners upon Asmussen’s consultation.

“He came out of book three. He was one Steve had seen and we were just about done with the sale at that point,” Fiske recalled. “We had bought several in the first two books, but Steve really liked him, so we went and looked at him. Steve is rarely wrong about these kind of things. We ran him through our usual tests with Dr. [David] Lambert at Equine Analysis. All that came back good, so we went on and put him in our shopping basket.”

Epicenter will face a compact field of familiar foes in the Jim Dandy, including Early Voting, Zandon and multiple graded-stakes winner Tawny Port, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby.

Fiske said he would expect to see Epicenter forwardly-placed after watching similarly tactical races last weekend at Saratoga with Nest taking the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and the Asmussen-trained Clairiere prevailing under Joel Rosario in the Grade 2 Shuvee.

“Those short fields are almost like four-dimensional match races,” Fiske said. “It gets to be a rider’s race. Especially after watching Joel ride last weekend, I don’t think he’ll be too far off the pace.”

Breaking from post 2 at morning line odds of 3-2, Epicenter will once again be ridden by Rosario, who already has won five stakes during the meet.

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