Epicenter put on a game demonstration of class on Saturday afternoon to take the victor’s cut of the $1.25 million Travers Stakes on a fast track at Saratoga. Jockey Joel Rosario guided his companion on a masterful tactical race, and with the victory, Epicenter seals the somewhat clouded chapter of his back-to-back place showings in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. It was, as his trainer Steve Asmussen told the press, a “dominant” performance.
Cyberknife lived up to his morning line third-favorite status and placed handily in the race, while Zandon, who has placed behind Epicenter twice, added yet another third place showing to his resume. Despite the fact that jockey Sonny Leon had never raced at Saratoga before, he managed to open up Derby winner Rich Strike just enough to eke out his niche in fourth.
But it was the staggering list of his competition that put Epicenter’s name up in lights again and erased all doubts about the horse left hanging from his two surprise last-furlong upsets in the first two Triple Crown races. Epicenter beat both the Derby winner, Rich Strike, and the Preakness winner, Early Voting, as well as the overly touted Curlin winner Artorius, who simply could not become much of a factor in this race. As well he bested Zandon, who has consistently run behind Epicenter, and not least, Cyberknife, who proved the greatest threat to him today.
Predictably, since Epicenter was the hands-down morning line favorite and that status stuck with him until post time — and because the talented field for this Travers held six favorites, among them Cyberknife and Zandon — the payouts were definitely not of the sort that would spread unbridled glee among players. Nevertheless, Epicenter paid $4.10 to win, Cyberknife paid a flat $4.00, and Zandon paid $2.90 in show.
For his part, jockey Joel Rosario taught the racing world a master class in technical finger-tip level control, a Zen-like show of instinctive horsemanship.
“He looked like he was going one speed and then he kept building and building and building, and I felt pretty good turning for home,” Rosario told the press. “I could see he was relaxing and looking around and I felt like I had plenty more, so it felt good. We wanted to be forwardly placed, and he was. He broke good and he was more in the race today.”
What Rosario meant by that was, Epicenter was “more in the race” than he was in the Kentucky Derby or in the Preakness.
The sky — in the form of a possible entry into the Breeders’ Cup — is apparently limitless for Epicenter now. Trainer Asmussen, whose first Travers win this was, seemed resolutely positive, which in horseman-speak translates as he only slightly hedged his statement. “When you think of the horses that are running (now) and how excellent they are, what a great Breeders’ Cup Classic it will be if we can get them all lined up,” he said.