Epicenter sets record and wins Million Dollar Louisiana Derby
Epicenter not only passed its final test en route to the Kentucky Derby, but also earned extra credit by stepping off the pace to win Year 2, $1 Million. Louisiana Derby Saturday at the fairgrounds.
The 2 1/2 length victory cements the Not This Time colt of Winchell Thoroughbreds as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
“Speed and rail is the place to be, and (jockey) Florent Geroux has done a good job of protecting that with Zozos, so (our jockey) Joel Rosario didn’t press the issue, said well tracked, was unclassified, and finished well on the wire,” said Epicenter coach Steve Asmussen. “It was nice to see him react without the race being given to him. Now we know that if they’re going fast, we can be patient, and if there’s no speed, we can be the ones to go.
Epicenter was never more than 2 lengths off the pace set by Zozos, although neither he nor Pioneer of Medina offered any resistance when Rosario made his move home en route to victory in 1:54 .38 for 1 3/16 miles, fastest. of four scores at this distance in Fair Grounds history.
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Epicenter has now won three of its last four races, including the Risen Star Stakes (G2) 1 1/8 mile gate-to-wire and the Louisiana Derby in its last two. He won 4 out of 6 starts and earned over a million dollars.
“I’m 0-for-26 in the (Kentucky) Derby, and now I’m going in with great luck,” Asmussen said. “It’s a race I really want to win, and now we have the blocks in place.”
Asmussen said Epicenter would be back at Churchill Downs by Monday and let the weather dictate the plan for the colt’s first job en route to the world’s most prestigious horse race.
“It was nice that we could dispel the critics who wondered if we were a type of horse that needed the lead,” Winchell racing director David Fiske said. “Now we have top horses for the first Friday and Saturday in May.”
Fiske was referring to undefeated champion Echo Zulu, who won the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) race before Epicenter scored. The Oaks-Derby double capped a day of five wins for Asmussen and Rosario, with three of those wins coming down to Winchell.
“You dream of waking up on a day like today,” Fiske said, adding that Ron Winchell was in the UAE for Midnight Bourbon’s Dubai World Cup, but the owner stayed awake to watch Fair Grounds. “He definitely didn’t go to bed. It’s been one of the best days we’ve ever had.
“It was a very emotional day with Echo Zulu coming back from the layoff and then Epicenter winning the (Louisiana) Derby,” Asmussen said.
Asmussen credited Fair Grounds’ 3-year program with putting Epicenter in a position to be his best chance at winning the Kentucky Derby.
“The development of this colt has been fantastic,” he said. “The surface is ideal for training and he has advanced physically. It never hit a plateau; it just keeps getting better, and now we’re as prepared as we can be to win the Kentucky Derby.
The Zozos of Barry and Joni Butzow finished second with Pioneer of Medina, who broke away before the race, retaining third place. The top two are virtually guaranteed spots in the Kentucky Derby with effort.