When you’re the all-time leader of Thoroughbred racing in victory, it makes sense that the sport’s major race series would be tied to your name.
However, for coach Steve Asmussen, who reached the summit of Everest with victories last year and now has 9,637 victories in his Hall of Fame career, there is a notable omission on the list. long of his level 1 victories: the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
Asmussen has finished second twice in the opening match of the Triple Crown, and perhaps this could be the year for him to be in the final round of the winner.
Asmussen’s stock for Run for the Rises certainly spiked on February 19 when Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter took the lead early and never got a header, posting an easy 2 3/4 length win over the previously undefeated and favored opponent Happy smile in $400,000 of Risk Star Shares presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) to 3-year-olds at Fair Grounds & Slots.
While alleviating the sting of his first loss in Lecomte Stakes (G3) last month, winning the 1 1/8 mile bet also brought home his speed son. Not this time 50 points qualify, giving him 64 points overall and guaranteeing him a spot in the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
“It was a bit different from his last race, as every segment was perfect for him,” said owner Ron Winchell. “He’s very nice and relaxed and you just hope he’ll finish the race, which he did.”
Ron Winchell (right) leads Epicenter to the winners’ circle after the Easter Star bet
The win was the third of five starts for the foal bred by Westwind Farms in Kentucky. Candy Ride mare Silent Candy sold for $260,000 from Bettersworth Westwind Farm shipment at the 2020 Keeneland Sale in September. With two of those wins and the second at Lecomte coming at Fair Grounds, Unsurprisingly, Winchell says Epicenter’s next stop will be the New Orleans track’s Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) March 26.
“Never heard of it,” Winchell joked about the 1/3/16 mile bet with a smile before modifying it accordingly, “That’s the plan.”
Risen Star was the first of seven Kentucky Derby openings to deliver a total of 85 qualifying points, and Epicenter and driver Joel Rosario wasted very little time hitting most of them.
They opened up in length after a quarter mile opening in:23.79 and extended it to 1 1/2 lengths after six stretches in 1:12.25. A quarter pole off, Epicenter trailed nine of his opponents and opened a safe 4 1/2 length midway before he downshifted in the final sixteenth round.
“He ran a big race today,” Rosario said. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing.”
Last time was 1:49.03 for second coin pick 7-2 ($9) in the bet, who pushed his earnings to $410,639.
The sixth pony from his dam, Epicenter is the winner of Silent Candy’s only bet. She also has a 2 year old kid Always dreaming colt, who was purchased for $25,000 by Mike Pender at the 2021 Keeneland Promotion in September 2021, and a Tapiture first year students.
Smile Happy is the favorite 2-1 after a perfect 2-on-2-2 for coach Kenny McPeek, including a 3/4-length win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) ) via Classic Road and White Abbariowho won Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) and Holy Bull Stakes (G3), respectively in their 3-year-old debuts.
Lucky Seven Stable’s Son Runhappy and jockey Corey Lanerie finished seventh after six stretches before splitting the competitors in the stretch and regrouping for a second half the length of Jeff Drown’s Zandon .
“I’m happy with the race,” McPeek said. “I said if he finished third or better it would be a nice next step. For the one-mile race and eighth in the third start of his career and after the sacking. (as of November 27), it was a great run. He was stuck in traffic and couldn’t catch the winner, but I like to gallop.”
With 20 points from runner-up, Smile Happy now has 30 and that may be enough to run in the Kentucky Derby given the Triple Crown trail score is vacated by horses trained by Bob Baffert, who is at mid-race 2 years suspension at Churchill Downs.
McPeek said he’s not sure what happens next for Smile Happy, who is second to Epicenter on the points chart.
“It’s too early to decide,” McPeek said. “We’ll nominate him to all the reasonable stakes and start there.”
Zandon, son of Start up first start since a second struggling in a Remsen Stakes (G2) match for coach Chad Brown, broke from the start and then lost points during a five-wide run to take second place. three, less than Smile Happy half the length. He picked up 10 points for a solid performance given the circumstances and got 14, moving up to fifth place on the leaderboard.
Medina’s Pioneers , coached by Todd Pletcher, finished fourth and trailed by five points. Currently, he’s holding the 20th and final spot on Run for the Roses, though that number will change dramatically over the next 11 weeks leading up to the first Saturday in May.