HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 20, 2022 — On so many levels and at once, what a cruel and glorious game this sport can be.
Shortly after 6:37 EST Saturday, a lovely filly named La Crete was about to lead the Rachel Alexandra field into the Fair Grounds far turn but went wrong and was pulled up by jockey Joel vanned off.
Precisely 41 minutes later, the same connections of Rosario and trainer Steve Asmussen ran themselves into the epicenter of the Kentucky Derby picture with a thoroughly comprehensive Risen Star victory.
All stakeholders, from horse breeders to horse trainers to horse players, never hesitate to reference the high highs and low lows of Thoroughbred racing when asked.
Could there be a better example than this? Within one hour at one racetrack in the glare of the national spotlight? You don’t see that every day.
Then neither do you see a three-year-old with notable speed but with questionable ability at the distance put that concern to rest with a victory that left no doubt who was clearly best in the nine furlong Derby qualifier on Mardi Gras weekend.
Rarer still was the execution of exquisitely doled-out speed in a racing event at America’s most popular route distance. Talk about the Big Easy.
The first answer hears gets on the racetrack when it comes to fractional splits is to judge everything in blocks of 12 seconds, as in 12-clipping along so as best to negotiate every furlong along the way.
Well, it just doesn’t get any better than what Rosario and Epicenter combined to accomplish Saturday.
The Risen Star was a wire victory, a result of quarter-mile splits of 24.18, 24.28 and 24.33 en route to a mile in 1:36.58, that final quarter-mile split in 24.38.
The cherry on the confection was a final furlong of 12.45, yielding a mile and an eighth of 1:49.03, what racetrackers call “race horse time.” And Epicenter is that race horse.
Better still is that there appear to be reserves in the tank. Rosario began sneaking peeks back with less than a furlong remaining, riding him out until the final hundred yards when he geared the colt down.
“He was enjoying what he was doing,” Rosario said later. And it showed.
Place finisher, favorite Smile Happy, caught him on the gallop out just before curling into the bend but once Epicenter saw his rival he refused to let him by, Rosario allowing his mount to gallop out further.
The favorite ran on very well, losing no stature, only a horse race. Between rivals much of the way, Smile Happy rallied between horses at headstretch, veered inside, making his own trouble, before angling out nearing the wire, sustaining good forward momentum. Good season’s debut and race to build on.
Explained trainer Ken McPeek: “For a mile-and-an-eighth race in the third start of his career and after a layoff, it was an excellent run.” Resultingly, Smile Happy appears forward for start two of the campaign.
Show finisher Zandon also ran well in his first start of the year. Rearing up slightly at the start, Chad Brown’s charge was four wide into the clubhouse turn and remained wide, launching on the final turn, his forward momentum carrying him six wide at headstretch. The loss ground likely cost him the place.
Cox Turns Oaks Filly Loose
The injury to La Crete notwithstanding, the G2 Rachel Alexandra, stepping stone to the Fair Grounds- and Kentucky Oaks, was at once entertaining and eye opening.
Turnerloose? Never really knew about her until Saturday.
That’s because her first two victories were on turf. Who knew what to expect? As was reported on Twitter: “To be honest, I didn’t know if she’d handle the dirt,” trainer Brad Cox said.
For her third start she was entered in Keeneland’s G2 Jessamine and led every step until the very last, third, beaten a neck as the 4-5 choice.
From there, a trip west to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Turnerloose chased the pace throughout before getting bumped while tiring and was eased, finishing 14th and last. After Saturday’s first start on dirt, Turnerloose is now an undefeated G2 winner.
There were several impressive aspects to her victory. Showing her usual early speed, she rated kindly in fourth beneath Florent Geroux and benefitted position-wise just after Le Crete was injured. She surged up the rail on the turn but had to steady awaiting room before angling out for the drive.
To say Turnerloose is not the prettiest mover is exceedingly kind. The racetrack term for a stride like hers is “paddler,” but her foreleg action appears more that of a swimmer breast-stroking down the lane. No wonder the daughter of Nyquist brought $50,000 at auction–the sire’s offspring averaging over $162,000.
Her action doesn’t slow her down in the least. In fact, she finished strongly through the wire and galloped out very well to the middle of the clubhouse turn. Her first work after the NOV 5 Breeders’ Cup came on DEC 31 at Keeneland. She showed only six published works in preparation for her dirt debut.
“[Turnerloose] worked well enough on it last fall. We gave her a little bit of a break, brought her back, she worked well enough here at the Fair Grounds,” explained the 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer of her regimen.
Just as Epicenter earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, Turnerloose earned a like amount for the Kentucky Oaks. Her next pre-Oaks start has yet to be determined, whereas Epicenter will return for the Louisiana Derby.
Further good news was that Le Crete’s condylar fracture, which will require surgery, is not expected to end her racing career.