If Epicenter runs his race, he’s going to win the Preakness.
It’s really that simple. By just about any measure, the Steve Asmussen-trained, Joel Rosario-ridden Epicenter is the clear class of the field for the second leg of the Triple Crown series. He was installed as the morning-line favorite and he’ll be the post-time favorite at 7 p.m. Saturday, probably by a considerable margin.
He’s got the top speed figures. The most earnings. His trainer and jockey are among the game’s best. And he would have won the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, if not for Rich Strike — who passed on the Preakness — having the trifecta of speed, trip and luck breaking his way.
But this is horse racing. It’s rarely as simple as it seems.
The overwhelming majority of handicappers will look at the past performances of the nine entrants for this Preakness and determine that Epicenter has the best resume of the bunch. Problem is, not all the data is on those charts. It was only two weeks ago that Epicenter was part of a Kentucky Derby where some of the fractions were so blazing that many contenders simply burned out before the stretch run.
Hence, bettors must wonder how much Epicenter has in his tank for this one.
This isn’t the 20-horse Derby. There are only nine in this field. Yes, an 81-1 shot just won the Run for the Roses, proving that anything can happen. Fenwick — 1 for 6 lifetime — would be the upset of upsets and will be one of the longest shots Saturday. So will Happy Jack, who broke his maiden in his first start; in four outings since, he’s been beaten by a combined 69 lengths.
Everyone else has a path that would give them a real shot at a victory, believe it or not.
The Preakness won’t be like the Derby from a tactical standpoint. It will be quick, there will be pace, but the first four furlongs won’t be run by horses doing a Usain Bolt impression as was the case at Churchill Downs. And there won’t be horses trying to drop way, way, way back to set up big finishing kicks, either. Expect most of these horses to be somewhat bunched most of the way, maybe no more than five or six lengths separating the contending pack.
Simplification starts on the rail, meaning he’ll have the shortest way around and the pace should set up perfectly for him. Creative Minister will have to be near the lead to have his best chance. Secret Oath — the filly who won the Kentucky Oaks for the legend, D. Wayne Lukas — may as well have a turbo button, because when she gets asked for her best run it doesn’t take long for her to deliver. That always comes in handy at Pimlico.
Armagnac, if he gets to the lead early, could have enough to stay there and that'll be a storyline to watch. And Skippylongstocking, from the outside post, comes into this race rested and off three consecutive outings where improvement was shown.
But the race should come down to two horses: Epicenter and Early Voting. Both will likely be very near the front the whole way.
Here is what’s not to like about Early Voting: this is only the fourth start of his career. Here is what’s to like: His connections pointed him to the Preakness, even though they could have gone to the Kentucky Derby. They picked this race and picked it for a reason. He’s gotten better with every start and has the speed to go stride for stride with Epicenter.
On paper, Epicenter is the best horse. Have to wonder, though, if a little burst of speed at the end from another costs him again.
The pick is Early Voting, over Epicenter and Secret Oath.
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