What we learned: Passive ride hurts Epicenter in Preakness

What we learned: Passive ride hurts Epicenter in Preakness
Photo: John Voorhees / Eclipse Sportswire

Epicenter again ran second in a Triple Crown leg as he failed to catch Early Voting in the stretch run of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. But once again, there is a valid argument Epicenter ran the best race. At a minimum, an oddly passive ride and subsequent bad trip cost Epicenter his chance to win.

The biggest part of Epicenter’s misfortunes came at the break, when Joel Rosario did not urge his mount to get going and clear the field before the turn. From there, Skippylongstocking pushed Epicenter in and shut him off.

After getting forced out of an outside path, Rosario took Epicenter inside.

For most of the card, speed horses had been thriving on the inside. The exception came when Ethereal Road won from the outside in the Sir Barton Stakes a few races before this one. But no one expected Epicenter to lag in second-to-last on the inside through a slow opening quarter of 24.32 seconds.  

Epicenter had pressed the pace in the Gun Runner Stakes and set the pace in both the Lecomte Stakes (G3) and Risen Star Stakes (G2). The opening quarter was not suicidal. If asked out of the gate, Epicenter had the speed to join the leaders from the outside rather than get bullied by Skippylongstocking into the turn.

As for who controlled the front, the West Coast invader Armagnac took the early lead around the first turn. The expected pacesetter Early Voting sat comfortably right outside of him, and he did not push Armagnac too hard through the early stages. About two or three lengths behind them came Simplification, Happy Jack and Creative Minister.

Skippylongstocking, Fenwick and Epicenter made up the next trio behind the mid-pack group. The Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath trailed the field through the slow pace. 

Armagnac then ran a half-mile in 47.44 seconds and six furlongs in 1:11.50, with Early Voting inching closer to him as the field approached the far turn. At this point, the field began to tighten up and Epicenter started to move through the inside.

As they went around the far turn, Skippylongstocking again made it a little tight on Epicenter at a key point by keeping him pinned next to the rail for a few moments. Skippylongstocking did not shut Epicenter off this time, but he did not make it easy for Epicenter to push through.

At the top of the stretch, Epicenter finally had a clear path on the inside, and he started to move past horses.

But Early Voting already had taken control of the lead on the far turn, and he built up a moderate advantage while running in the middle part of the track. As Epicenter emerged from the inside to take second late in the stretch, Early Voting came inside and in front of Epicenter to capture the Preakness Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths. From Epicenter to the inexperienced Creative Minister in third came another 2 1/4 lengths. Secret Oath finished fourth and 2 3/4 lengths behind Creative Minister.

Early Voting had a comfortable trip early on, but he won and deserves credit for opening up at the top of the stretch and finishing off the race nicely. The son of Gun Runner is no longer only a pacesetter, as he sat off Armagnac with no problem and saved his best running for the stretch.

As for the final time and speed figure, Early Voting finished the 1 3/16 miles in 1:54.54, which translates into a 105 Beyer Speed Figure.

Epicenter was second again. Because of the troubled run to the first turn, Epicenter never had a chance to run his best race. Rosario gave him a passive ride out of the gate, and the lack of early urgency to clear the field led to the strange deep closer trip. While Epicenter is versatile enough up front around the lead, this is not a closer type from the rear.

Perhaps it is time to stop betting on Epicenter for a while. His bad trip did not go unnoticed by the public, and no matter where he goes next, this colt figures to start at even money or less depending on the field.  

Creative Minister gets credit for finishing third. Even though he was not a threat to win, he hit the board in a Triple Crown race without any prior graded-stakes experience in his three starts before the Preakness. As he gains more experience at this level, he should rise to the top mix of his class.

Secret Oath cannot compete with the best males. She emulated her Arkansas Derby (G1) effort in the Preakness, as she went wide on the far turn and flattened out in the stretch again. In some years, the differences are minimal. In this year, it does not seem like the best fillies can run with top 3-year-old males.

Epicenter remains a great talent. For his sake, perhaps the connections could attempt to shake things up with a new rider on him next time.

But Epicenter is not a great bet next time. In a normal Grade 1 race with a shorter field, he might start at 2-5, depending on the strength of the field. His last two races are not some kind of secret among trip handicappers. As stated above, everyone saw the bad trip. In each case, he was clearly better than the second-place finish suggests.

This is the right time to stop betting Epicenter, at least for now.  

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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