Edited Pimlico Release – The 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) will feature a Kentucky Derby (G1) rematch between upset victor Rich Strike and favored Epicenter, who appeared home free until passed on the inside in the final strides by the 80-1 long shot.
David Fiske, Winchell Thoroughbreds’ longtime bloodstock manager, confirmed after speaking with trainer Steve Asmussen Wednesday morning that Epicenter will run in the May 21 Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown at historic Pimlico Race Course. The Louisiana Derby (G2) winner returned to the track for training earlier in the morning at Churchill Downs, with Asmussen liking what he saw as Epicenter jogged and galloped under Roberto Howell.
Plans call for Epicenter to work an easy half-mile on Monday and van to Pimlico on Tuesday.
“Steve said he was really pleased with how he went back to the track this morning,” Fiske said. “He said he looked great. I mean, we were going. It was just that (Epicenter) needed to tell us that he wanted to go.”
After watching Epicenter train, Asmussen called the Not This Time colt “a remarkable physical [specimen]. He’s very strong.”
“I thought he traveled well,” he said of Epicenter’s first day back training. “Roberto said he was himself, more of the same. Being himself is a good thing. I thought he took the Derby really well. He laid down like he normally does. He’s been nice and relaxed and traveled really good on the racetrack this morning.”
Eric Reed: ‘It’s Like a Euphoria That Won’t Go Away’
While preparing Rich Strike for a start in the May 21 Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course four mornings after one of the unlikeliest and most memorable renewals of the Kentucky Derby (G1), trainer Eric Reed was still having trouble wrapping his mind around the son of Keen Ice’s 80-1 victory that shocked and rocked the Thoroughbred world in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
“It’s like a euphoria that won’t go away. I’m happier for the guys who work with the horse than I am for myself. I still have a hard time realizing what we’ve done,” Reed said Wednesday morning from his Mercury Training Center near Lexington, Ky. “We’ve won stakes and a lot of races. We’ve had good horses and regular horses. I look at him and say, ‘Man, we just won a nice race.’ But he won the race. He’ll never just be a horse again. He’s always going to be the Kentucky Derby winner, and that’s what we’ve got to get used to. It’s just hard to imagine.”
Rich Strike, who was claimed by owner Rick Dawson for $30,000 last fall, won the Kentucky Derby for a trainer who had won one previous graded-stakes race and a jockey (Sonny Leon) who rides far outside the national spotlight at Ohio racetracks. The seemingly hopeless outsider surged past favored Epicenter nearing the finish line to pull off a feel-good upset for the little guy.
“I think for two minutes and two seconds, the world forgot about politics and war and COVID,” said Reed, who has saddled 1446 winners during his 37 years of training. “I think for two minutes and two seconds, people got a sigh of relief from all this anxiety we live with today. He did it, not me or anyone else. Richie gave us two minutes of peace.”
Meanwhile, it was business Wednesday morning as usual at Mercury Training Center, where Rich Strike galloped under Gabriel Lagunes.
“He had a nice little gallop. He had a nice day on the track. Everything seems good,” Reed said.
Lagunes, a jockey on the Ohio circuit, has played an important role in Rich Strike’s success.
“He sacrifices a lot of time with this horse. He’s done a whole lot more work than anyone else involved with the horse, to be honest with you,” Reed said.
Secret Oath More Than ‘Probable’ for Preakness
D. Wayne Lukas said the ultimate decision remains to be made but that Briland Farm’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath is “probable” for the May 21 Preakness, a race the Hall of Fame trainer has won six times. Lukas said that Rebel (G2) runner-up Ethereal Road will head to Pimlico Race Course but most likely will run in the $100,000 Sir Barton for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
“It could change, but I’d like to run in the Sir Barton,” Lukas said. “He’ll be a short price there.”
Lukas, who won his first of four Kentucky Derbys with the filly Winning Colors in 1988, said he discusses the Preakness for Secret Oath every day with owner-breeders Rob and Stacy Mitchell. If they don’t go in the Preakness, Lukas said the filly will train up to Saratoga’s $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at 1 1/8 miles on July 23. He said Secret Oath will only run in Grade 1 route races from now on out.
“We agonize over it,” he said at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning. “She’s gone back to the track, and she was very sharp out there today. I don’t see anything about her that would change our decision right now [regarding the Preakness]…. She’s training well. She’s bright. She’s sharp and out there playing.”
Asked if Secret Oath could be considered probable for the Preakness, Lukas said, “Yes. You can say probable. Maybe a probable-plus…. If she does that (wins), she’s got a chance to be Horse of the Year, when you step out of the box that far.
“Let’s put it this way: The Derby horses pretty much all had a hard race. Her race was not hard on her,” he added. “Now, you sit back and say, ‘Epicenter is going to be the favorite. Chad Brown is putting that other horse (Wood Memorial runner-up Early Voting) in.’ What I always did on those, is I list all the horses going and say, ‘Can I beat this one?’ Yes. ‘Can I beat that one?’ Maybe. Go right down the line. But I still don’t know who’s going.
“Epicenter will be difficult. He’s a legitimate favorite. He’s a very good horse. Nobody can go over there and think they’ll just run by him. He is going to be awfully tough to beat. You are taking a shot if you take him on,” Lukas continued. “The other thing that always factors in is that when they are really good like she is right now, you take advantage of that moment, that time frame. We’ve got it planned out all the way to the Breeders’ Cup, but there’s a lot of road until then. Things happen.”
Secret Oath jogged a lap around Churchill Downs and then jogged more in the track’s mile chute Wednesday morning under Danielle Rosier.
Simplification Settles in at Pimlico for Preakness Start
Tami Bobo and Tristan De Meric’s Simplification, the only Preakness (G1) contender on the grounds at Pimlico Race Course, has settled in nicely, trainer Antonio Sano’s assistant Jesus ‘Chino’ Prada said Wednesday morning.
Simplification, fourth by 3 ¾ lengths in the Kentucky Derby (G1) Saturday at odds of 35-1, shipped from Louisville, Ky. to Baltimore overnight Monday and arrived at the Pimlico Stakes Barn at 5 a.m. Tuesday.
“The horse is very good, excellent,” Prada said.
Simplification, a son of Not This Time, walked the shedrow Tuesday afternoon. His relaxing schedule for Wednesday called for eating, a pair of 45-minute walks and baths. Prada said the bay colt will go to the track with a pony for the first time at 6 a.m. Thursday.
Bobo and her husband, Fernando De Jesus, run a pinhooking business at their farm in Ocala, Florida. They purchased Simplification as a weanling in a private sale with the intention of selling him the next year. When he developed some lower leg issues they held on to him and later decided to race him with Sano. He has a 3-1-2 record from eight starts, a Grade 2 win in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, has earned $665,350, and has taken them and De Meric to the Triple Crown.
Prada, 57, has worked around horses since 1984 in his native Venezuela and in the U.S. He said that the colt showed promise early on.
“When he came to the barn as a baby, he was a nice baby,” Prada said. “Sano waited for months to get the horse into the barn. The first time he breezed, he showed that he was a good horse. Sano took his time with him when he was a baby, and he’s a very special horse. From the first time that he worked at Gulfstream, we knew he was a big talent.”
Early Voting Set for Preakness; Zandon Decision Pending
Trainer Chad Brown has not decided whether he will have one or two runners in the 147th Preakness (G1) on May 21 at Pimlico Race Course. Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting is on course for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, while Brown said that he is still considering a run with Zandon, who was third in last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1).
Zandon arrived at Brown’s barn at Belmont Park from Louisville, Ky. on Tuesday. The four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer said he will watch the horse on the track this week before deciding over the weekend whether to enter the Preakness.
Brown and owner Seth Klarman opted not to run Early Voting in the Derby and to point him to the Preakness, the race they won in 2017 with Cloud Computing. Early Voting won the Feb. 5 Withers (G3) and was second by a neck to Mo Donegal in the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2) to stamp himself as a Triple Crown series-caliber runner.
“He’s doing fine,” Brown said. “He’s going to have his final work over the weekend and then we’ll head to Baltimore sometime early in the week.”
Jose Ortiz will ride Early Voting in the Preakness.
Brown is using the same approach with Early Voting that worked with Cloud Computing: skipping the Derby and making the Preakness the fourth career start for colts with graded-stakes experience.
“They are very similar,” Brown said. “Lightly raced coming out of the Wood. They have spacing. The same owner. They have similar running styles. Early Voting has shown a little bit more speed and will be close up front. Cloud Computing wasn’t far away in the Preakness.”