Epicenter’s trainer Steve Asmussen called the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic field back in August, as his athlete won the Travers at Saratoga, or more accurately, in addition to Epicenter, he was composing the field in his mind, somewhat like a fantasy football team “owner” would cherry-pick an offensive line. Here’s what Asmussen said immediately after Epicenter’s commanding win by 4-plus lengths, putting Cyberknife into the shade: “When you think of the horses that are running (now) and how excellent they are, what a great Breeders’ Cup Classic it’ll be if we can get them all lined up.”
In a word, that’s happened, and that sort of field is running on Saturday. By virtue of Epicenter’s back-to-back resuscitative wins in the Jim Dandy and the Travers this summer, Asmussen is very much in the mix, albeit currently sitting third-favorite in the odds. As any trainer would be after winning the Travers, Asmussen was elated, but his dry horseman’s reserve wouldn’t let him promise anything, or call any names of who he thought might be getting ready for the Classic. That’s not the kind of thing that you do in the winner’s circle at Saratoga.
Except, of course, that Asmussen was strongly hinting he’d be pointing Epicenter at this Saturday. It goes without saying that he’d have been hoping that Flightline and Life Is Good would be pointed that way, too. It’s axiomatic that trainers are keenly, minutely aware of the landscape of candidates and the various demands that this or that sort of competition might put on their athletes — it’s part of their job to sculpt the best path for their charges through that ever shifting maze while looking at whatever the filly or the colt is doing for you daily. And, it’s good for the sport that trainers are racers in the sense that they don’t make any money unless they put their horses out there to run.
All that noted, Epicenter’s questions remain front and center. If we write off the Derby as a fluke — as it seems it must be, what with Rich Strike way down in the sub-basement of the probabilities of winning the thing, next to last in the eight-horse field, we still have to address Epicenter’s performance in the Preakness. What the hell happened? Well, he got outrun. Is that so bad?
Not really. And second in the Preakness is not too shabby. But Epicenter was favored, and the devil is in the details, namely, in how it happened. Basically, he took back at the start, and ran well, but was trapped on the back stretch by what even the race announcer called a “wall” of horses. He worked out of that difficulty and by the far turn was gaining on Early Voting, but simply left himself with too much to do. For his part the victor Early Voting, under Jose Ortiz, ran a perfect race, laying second up the backstretch but managing to conserve enough of himself to bring home the highly tactical win.
Epicenter still rang in with a solid place showing, which is to say, despite the tactical error, he ran a pretty decent race. His problem on Saturday will be that the horses he’s running against will leave him exactly zero margin for errors like that, or any other errors that anybody might dream up. He’s got to run a perfect race, and he has to have Flightline and Life Is Good running against the speed, or each other, so hard that they run out of gas. It’s all possible, but given what Flightline has looked like in his last races and in training at Keeneland, that’s a lot to ask, a lot more, in fact, than was asked of Epicenter in the Travers.
That noted, he seems right as third-favorite in the odds as they stand before the morning line is set at Keeneland.