Epicenter favored in Preakness with Derby-winner Rich Strike out
published : 20 May 2022 at 07:45
WASHINGTON - The absence of longshot Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike takes a Triple Crown tilt off the table and sets up Derby runner-up Epicenter as the favorite in the $1.65 million Preakness Stakes on Saturday.
Rich Strike's unlikely victory in the 148th Kentucky Derby still cast a long shadow at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland, even after the colt's connections opted not to run him in the second jewel in US flat racing's Triple Crown.
It's the first time since 2019 that the Derby winner has skipped the Preakness. That year Country House was sick, and in fact never raced again.
This time Rich Strike's owner decided the two-week turnaround was too quick for the colt after his triumph at Churchill Downs as an 80-1 longshot.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Epicenter, stunned at the wire by Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby, was installed as the early 6-5 favorite after drawing the eighth post in the nine horse field.
Asmussen, who was denied a first Kentucky Derby victory in 24 attempts, insists he's put the disappointment behind him.
"We were second. Turn the page. Move on," Asmussen said. "We've got a quality 3-year-old that has some wonderful opportunities left in the second half of the year, and we plan on having him ready for them. He is very accomplished but yet to be a Grade One winner. For him to add a Grade One in a classic to his resume would be very important to us."
It's a familiar position for Asmussen. In 2007 the Asmussen-trained Curlin finished third in the Kentucky Derby, then came back in two weeks to win the Preakness before going on to finish second in the Belmont.
Curlin would go on to win the Breeders Cup Classic, a Dubai World Cup and two US Horse of the Year accolades.
Asmussen's other Preakness win came in 2009 with the filly Rachel Alexandra.
And a filly is among the top obstacles to Epicenter's chances of a bounce-back win.
Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, is the early 9-2 favorite behind 7-2 second-choice Early Voting.
Lukas 86, is vying for a seventh Preakness win, which would tie him with Bob Baffert and R. Wyndham Walden.
Secret Oath would be the sixth filly to win the Preakness, but the second in three years after Swiss Skydiver triumphed in 2020.
"Filly, colt, government mule -- I don't care. I'm here to win the thing," Lukas said.
Early Voting, trained by Chad Brown, is another "new shooter" coming in fresh after skipping the Derby while Simplification, fourth in the Derby despite a wide trip under Jose Ortiz, will give Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez a chance at a first Preakness victory.
Puerto Rico's Velazquez, 50, has won the Kentucky Derby three times and the Belmont Stakes twice, but never the Preakness.
Trainer Antonio Sana is confident the veteran rider can help Simplification overcome any disadvantage to their rail post.
"At first I thought, not good," Sana said after the draw. "But Johnny V is so smart. He'll make the decision if he wants to take the option outside."
For those looking for Rich Strike-style longshot there's 50-1 Fenwick, while Baffert's influence can be seen in Armagnac.
Baffert, serving a two-year ban after Medina Spirit's 2021 Kentucky Derby triumph was overturned because of a medication violation, trained Armagnac in California until turning him over to former assistant Tim Yakteen.