2022 Kentucky Derby Contender Profile – Epicenter

HOW HE GOT HERE

Epicenter made his debut in September for Steve Asmussen in a seven furlong maiden special weight race, where he showed some speed before starting to fade at the top of the stretch. He bypassed the Keeneland meet and ran again in the middle of November, going a one turn mile at Churchill, winning with ease while going gate to wire. He first appeared on my radar when he ran in the inaugural running of the Gun Runner Stakes in December at the Fair Grounds, which served as the new kickoff leg to their Road to the Kentucky Derby Series. He drew the rail, but conceded his rail position when a familiar rival, Surfer Dude, broke on top. He drew up alongside around the half mile pole, and then asserted himself at the top of the stretch where he powered to the front of an overmatched field to win by over six lengths in his stakes and two turn debut.

He graduated to graded stakes company when racing a month later in the Grade 3 Lecomte where he met the third place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Pappacap. Epicenter made the lead that day and was hounded every step of the way. He was nailed on the wire by a fast charging Call Me Midnight, who benefitted from Epicenter doing all of the dirty work on the front end. Pappacap, despite having the more advantageous trip, was never able to get by Epicenter, which, to me showed an awful lot of heart and determination for a young racehorse. He also finished well in front of the eventual Arkansas Derby winner, Cyberknife in that race.

His coming out party came a month later in the Grade 2 Risen Star. A fantastic field came together, including Smile Happy, who dominated the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, a race which had already produced three next out graded stakes winners. Zandon, who lost the Remsen by the narrowest of margins after a wide trip, was making his seasonal debut, along with the winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity, Slow Down Andy. There was less speed signed on for this nine furlong race, and he took advantage of that, breaking well from post five. He set the pace and had plenty left for the stretch run, winning by almost three lengths. Zandon and Smile Happy emerged from that race to run first and second in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, and Slow Down Andy went on to win the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, making this a definite key race. 

His final prep for the Kentucky Derby was in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. He was a heavy favorite in that race, which was not as deep as the Risen Star. He changed tactics and rated off the pace, allowing Zozos to set the fractions up front. When it was time for Joel Rosario to ask the question, he responded, winning by 2 ½ lengths while geared down late. He ran a career high Beyer Speed Figure of 102 in that 1 3/16 miles race.

 

HOW HE FITS HERE

Since 2014, every horse that finished first in the Kentucky Derby raced in the first flight of horses, a place where he’s likely to be. He was the winner of the deepest Derby prep this season (The Risen Star) and he has a win over the track at Churchill Downs. The defection of Forbidden Kingdom in the Derby, which was announced on Sunday, absolutely upgrades his chances. While there are other runners that will want to be forwardly placed, on or near the lead, Forbidden Kingdom was really the only “need the lead” type horse. With him out of the Derby picture, I think the early pace will be honest, but not blazing. He is a major contender from both a class and pace standpoint in this race. 

CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE

Steve Asmussen is the all-time winningest trainer in North America, and he’s won just about every important race in the United States except for the Kentucky Derby. He’s won the Preakness with Curlin and Rachel Alexandra and the Belmont with Creator. He’s been in the Winner’s Circle twice on Oaks Day with Summerly in 2005 and Untapable in 2014 (Rachel Alexandra was trained by Hal Wiggins when she won the Kentucky Oaks). He’s won six Breeders’ Cup races, the Dubai World Cup, and several other Grade 1 races across the United States. Epicenter figures to be the best chance he’s had to win the Kentucky Derby since he brought Curlin here in 2007. 

From a pedigree standpoint, Epicenter is from the second crop of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up, Not This Time. There could be as many as three horses sired by Not This TIme entered in this year’s Derby, as Simplification and In Due Time are both under consideration at this point. Both Simplification and Epicenter share a dam sire, the Argentinian bred, Candy Ride, who is quickly becoming one of the more important sire lines in North America. While Not This Time was injured and never had the chance to race at three, his horses are showing a good mix of speed and stamina. Just One Time became his first Grade 1 winner last weekend when winning the Grade 1 Madison Stakes at Keeneland going seven furlongs. 

 

OVERALL CHANCE

He will be one of the shorter prices on Derby Day, and deservedly so. He’s done everything right so far, while winning three stakes races in his young career. He’s beaten some of the better horses on the Kentucky Derby trail and he’s one of the faster horses lining up for this race. I presume Joel Rosario, who did win the Wood Memorial with Mo Donegal this weekend, will opt to ride Epicenter in the Derby. At this point in time, I see him as a solid win candidate on Derby Day. 

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