Barring any major surprises, Epicenter will be the favorite for the Preakness Stakes when the gates open on Saturday. In a rare circumstance, he would have been favored even if the Kentucky Derby winner, Rich Strike, was running in the Preakness.
With Rich Strike and Zandon defecting, it opens the door for the Derby runner-up to dip below 2-1, which is unusually short for a non-Derby winner. His strong and consistent 3-year-old form, combined with a lack of depth among the prospective contenders, makes this logical.
Is Epicenter as much of a standout as he seems? Below we take a closer look at the Beyer Speed Figures, Brisnet Speed Ratings and TimeformUS Figures to determine his biggest threats.
|Horse||Top Beyer||Top Brisnet||Top TimeformUS|
Beyer Speed Figures favor Epicenter, and it is not very close. Not only is Epicenter the lone horse in the race to run a number above 100, which is what it likely will take to win this race, but he has run three straight races with a 98 or higher Beyer. No one else has topped 96. It is interesting that the 94 Beyer Speed Figure that Secret Oath earned in the Kentucky Oaks puts her right in the mix with the other top contenders.
Brisnet does not mark Epicenter as a standout. He has run consecutive 101 numbers, which puts him behind four other Preakness probables. This should be taken with a gain of salt, however, because Epicenter has shown the most consistency. Early Voting's previous high was only a 91. Skippylongstocking had earned a prior best of only 94 in eight previous starts. Both runners earned their lofty numbers in the Wood Memorial (G2). Mo Donegal ran a non-threatening fifth in the Kentucky Derby after his Wood victory.
I believe the number for the Wood was inflated after it was compared to the Gazelle Stakes (G3) at the same distance on the same card. Considering how poorly the Gazelle entrants ran in the Kentucky Oaks, it seems that the Gazelle was painfully weak this year, making the Wood look better than it really was.
Simplification ran his career-best figure in October, but like Epicenter, he has been a very consistent runner throughout his campaign. Secret Oath's 103 number ranks as good as anyone who did not run in the Wood Memorial.
TimeformUS also valued the Wood Memorial, with Early Voting gaining the top mark. Epicenter is right there with a high of 120. Similar to the Beyer and Brisnet scales, Secret Oath is in the thick of things from a numbers prospective while challenging the males.
Among those not at the top of the speed figure scale, only Creative Minister is worth giving a second look. His Beyer Speed Figure of 92 is only 4 points off the second best number. His Brisnet high of 101 is tied with Epicenter. He has had only three 3 starts and has yet to go beyond 1 1/16 miles. Unlike many of his rivals, he still has room to catch up on speed figures.
Those who live and die by the speed figures may give Early Voting a chance to upset Epicenter and Skippylongstocking a shot to hit the board, but neither runner has any previous figure that is strong enough to lean on.
Consistency and experience show that Epicenter is a worthy favorite who will be tough to beat. Simplification seems like the most likely horse to show up for the exotics. We might not have seen the best from Secret Oath and Creative Minister, who have shown they can run competitive figures while they continue to improve.