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Handicapping - Pedigree - History - Dosage

Second to Last to Second

Two legs of the Triple Crown have come and gone and as usual, missed the superfecta both times by one. But this time is different. This time it was missing the colt who actually won the race. Thats a first, and honestly, it stings badly. Both races revolved around the best on the field, Epicenter, and both times he captured second place.

While I was never one to look for excuses in any horses that I heavily back, I will say that the Preakness was a much harder beat than the loss in the Kentucky Derby for Epicenter in my eyes. In the Derby, Epicenter was ridden beautifully against a brutal pace and it was set up perfectly for the winner. Rich Strike cruised for a mile and then he was let loose at the perfect time and capitalized off of retreating speed. Rich Strike's performance was perfect in relation to how the race was set up and he crossed that finish line first. There were other rear runners who could have done just the same, but it was Rich Strike who had the power to see it through.

In the Derby, Epicenter ran his race as best as he could even though he was pulled a little further back than his norm. He had 12 competitors behind him and he had a suicidal speed group in front of him. Advantage goes to Rich Strike and Epicenter settles for second. The entire race evolved in such a way that was both unpredictable by the betting public and by a vast amount of career handicappers. I would venture to say, that it was also unpredictable for each and every trainer who had a colt in one of those gates as well. If they could have predicted that, Summer is Tomorrow would have been left alone on that lead with at least 15 lengths of air between him and the stalkers. Epicenter lost that race but it was not due to poor riding, or to even a poor performance. It was due to the dynamics that the race presented in terms of a suicidal pace structure.

In the Preakness, we had the opposite scenario as far as pace structure, which should have been an extremely advantaged spot for Epicenter. With a more than conducive 24.32 opening quarter, lead and stalking contenders have free reign to wrap around that track and then give it their all at the top of the stretch. Epicenter's opening quarter leaves me in complete disbelief. It was ridiculous to say the least.

In Epicenter's maiden win at Churchill Downs, he went Gate to Wire traveling 8f and won by 3.5 lengths.

His next race, the Gun Runner Stakes, he stalked in 2nd position to the top of the stretch, took over easily and won after gearing down by 6.5 lengths traveling 8.5f.

In the Lecomte stakes, Epicenter took the lead spot again traveling 8.5f again, but this time lost by a neck to Call Me Midnight.

In the 9f Risen Star, he demolished the field this time, running Gate to wire, winning by 2-3/4 lengths.

His next race, the 9.5f Louisiana Derby, he rated behind the speed, keeping within 1/2 to 2 lengths off the lead the entire oval. He broke the track record, beating the field by 2.5 lengths.

Of course, the Kentucky Derby, he was ridden correctly, held further back from the overseas invader's overstated pace which, even though it was against Epicenter's preferred area, it was the correct place for him because of that pace. He did not win it, Rich Strike took over with his advantage and overtook the best on the field. There is no room for excuses, it just is what it is.

In looking at the full scope of Epicenter's performances to date (Derby aside), it is quite easy to see that the horse has either been in the lead or within 2 lengths of the lead throughout his full career. The Derby is the outlier because Rosario read the pace (correctly), he adjusted the horse's position based on that pace and he gave it his all in over-correcting the loss of lengths to be competitive down the stretch.

Next he enters another 1-3/16th race with a field of only 8 competitors. The track he is going to compete on has obviously been speed favoring all day. With a 24.32 opening quarter, where does Rosario park Epicenter? EIGHT AND A HALF LENGTHS BEHIND THE LEAD in the early stages. He lost the race at the 1/4 pole. He did not have his preferred spot, he lost his advantage out front with the conducive pace and he took on a grave disadvantage with the rear runners for no clear reason. Rosario flipped the switch and took him completely out of contention. This is the bad beat and the moment I felt the immediate electricity course through me when they flashed that 1/4 time.

When you see the history of how a horse runs consistently at certain distances and with specific pace structures, you can get reasonable insight into what should transpire and act accordingly. Rosario took Epicenter out of that race and rode him completely against his history, against his strengths and against the speed favoring bias. Only Joel Rosario can shed some light on why he did that. Boxed in and steadied twice, this guy went from second to last and somehow managed to tail the winner home. On that track, the way Epicenter charged late, was nothing short of dazzling. A very tired Early Voting was swaying in that stretch and he would have been no match if Epicenter was ridden on the far outside early on.

He should have never lost that race. He would have not lost had Rosario ridden him the way the horse should had been run on that track with that early pace figure. The fact that he even made it to within 1.5 lengths behind the winner at the wire is a testament to the caliber of this horse. Taking nothing away from the incredible run of Early Voting who was ridden perfectly and performed extremely well, I see it as Rosario giving EV a 7 to 8 length head-start on a speed favoring track. Maybe some will disagree with that, but the fact remains, he was not ridden as he was in each and every one of his successful races, within at least 2 lengths behind the lead or on the lead himself. He was full of horse in the late stages of the race which means that he had a powerhouse stepping into that gate. He didn't use that power at the proper time, he unleashed it when it was too late. That beast has broken from the gate perfectly throughout his entire career but he was left to simmer this time and that is the jockey's fault.

The slow and moderate pace of Armagnac on the lead mimics the exact same "successful" playbook of the white haired guy who was "banned' from the Triple Crown. This lead horse, now in the barn of the ex-assistant of the same, makes one wonder about where loyalty lies. Rightly or wrongly, this is how things have transpired over the years with that trainer with those who follow horse racing carefully. Maybe they thought Armagnac had a chance to wire that field in normal Baffert fashion, but they had Epicenter to contend with. All I saw was Rosario riding the favorite completely and totally opposite of how the horse had consistently found success. After watching that replay numerous times, I saw no urgency but plenty of opportunity to get him on the outside of horses early on, enabling him to pass the rear and mid-pack with less stress. He did the opposite in hopes of an opening on the rail. Faith and trust flies out the window yet again.

This cost Epicenter the race and it appears questionable as to the motive. Champion Jockeys with Hall of Fame caliber do not leave a gate with their boot out of the stirrup when they have the time to wait for 5 other horses to load like he did with Rock Your World in last year's Derby. Champion jockeys don't meander out of a gate on a speed favoring track with the favorite who prefers to lead or stalk the pack. He will blame it on the horse but Epicenter showed his magnificent power to the entire public, which means he walked into that gate with that same power. He wasn't asked to show it when he needed to and that is the jockey's fault.

This is a freeze about 15 seconds into the race. Straight up run and he would have been in between Creative Minister and Fenwick in the Two Path. Instead he buried him.

Freeze Two is 35 seconds into the race and Rosario kept him stagnant in the same position.

Freeze Three is 48 seconds into the race. Wide open space straight up the two path again and Rosario just remained and then decided to pull Epicenter to the left and back on to the rail behind Creative Minister instead of taking that wide open two path with wide open daylight in front of him.

Freeze Four is one minute into the race and Rosario drops Epicenter back almost dead last now and close to even with Secret Oath, a bonafide rear runner.

Freeze Five is the TOP OF THE STRETCH and still Rosario stayed in that spot and did not ask the horse to move with all of that space in front of him. That right there cost Asmussen his trophy. Approx 1:35 into the race and the favorite was never asked to move.

Freeze Six, somehow the beast goes from 1/2 length from the back of the pack to within 1.5 lengths behind a tiring and swaying Early Voter. Rosario had a powerful horse from the moment he stepped out of that gate. It is obvious based on the difference of Freeze #5 and Freeze #6. That transpired in about 9 seconds.

There was no reason for Epicenter to be ridden that way. Summer is Tomorrow was not on that lead, Armagnac was. The killer is that not only is Rick Strike no match for Epicenter, neither is Early Voting - and he had to take second to both of them for reasons that were both out of his control. As well as Rosario rode him in the Derby, he did quite the opposite in the Preakness and he destroyed his shot. How that horse managed to get himself all the way up behind Early Voting at the wire is exceptional running against the grain. This is not a one-dimensional horse. This is a very unlucky horse. That ride was horrendous.

I truly hope that Asmussen does not run Epicenter in the Belmont. He would walk into that gate with a terrible disadvantage to begin with and the champ needs a well deserved break. He ran two very impressive races even in defeat. He should have never lost the Preakness and he should have never been ridden like that.


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