Epicenter was thought to be the best 3-year-old in the country since before the Kentucky Derby, but something always seemed to get in the way of earning that title. That all changed Saturday when the Steve Asmussen-trained colt easily won the $1.25-million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York.
It was the first Grade 1 win for Epicenter and the likely ticket to being named 3-year-old Male Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards. It was his fourth win in seven starts this year and sixth lifetime win.
“We walked over [Saturday] with a tremendous amount of confidence in the horse,” Asmussen told the New York Racing Assn. media team. “But … we felt exactly that way walking over for this year’s Derby.
“He was away cleanly and thought he was very comfortable and attending close enough to the pace, and just ran a very dominating performance against a very good group.”
Epicenter broke in the middle of the eight-horse race as Cyberknife, winner of the Haskell Stakes, went to the front and at one point on the backstretch had a two-length advantage. Epicenter was slowly making up ground and made his move on the far turn and by the top of the stretch he was in front by 2½ lengths. The winning margin was an uncontested 5¼ lengths in the 1¼-mile race.
Epicenter paid $4.00, $2.80 and $2.30. Cyberknife edged Zandon by a nose for third and Zandon beat Rich Strike by a neck for third. The remainder of the field, in order, was Gilded Age, Artorius, Ain’t Life Grand and Early Voting.
The horse was purchased for $260,000, a relatively small amount by today’s standards, by Ron Winchell, part of the family that made its name by selling doughnuts.
“The Travers is always the marquee race,” Winchell said. “Coming here with Gun Runner and running third and Midnight Bourbon finishing second last year, it just makes you want to win it that much more. It makes this win in this race that much more special for myself and my family.”
The race was run before a paid attendance of 49,672, the largest crowd since 2015 when Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was beaten by Keen Ice.
Epicenter was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and looked to be on his way to victory before little-respected Rich Strike came flying on the inside to win by three-quarters of a length at extremely long odds.
Epicenter was again the favorite in the Preakness but was easily bested by Early Voting. Asmussen questioned the ride by jockey Joel Rosario in the race, losing by 1¼ lengths.
But Rosario kept the mount and won the Jim Dandy at Saratoga in a four-horse field.
“I was just following the two horses on the lead,” Rosario said about the Travers. “I was inside there and just wanted to take my time with where he was. It looked like he was a little more in the game [Saturday]. He was great.”
Now, as the favorite for the 3-year-old Eclipse Award, everyone will see just how great he might actually be, especially if he runs against older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.