SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Epicenter is back where trainer Steve Asmussen thinks he should be – in the winner’s circle.
Relegated to second-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in May, Epicenter returned to the track for a stirring victory in the $600,000 Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, charging along the outside in a four-horse duel to hold off Zandon by 1 1/2 lengths.
It was Epicenter’s third win to go with the runner-up Triple Crown finishes this year for owner Winchell Thoroughbreds. That it came in the traditional Saratoga prep race for the $1.25 million Travers Stakes here in four weeks was a plus.
“It’s extremely rewarding off two tough races to bring him back in the winner’s circle where we think he should be,” said Asmussen, who won the JIm Dandy for the third time. “It was his first race ever at Saratoga, and we know what’s on the menu next. We want to be as ready as we possibly can for it.”
Ridden by Joel Rosario, Epicenter charged along the outside as the small field was bunched together across the track, then pulled away to hold off Zandon by 1 1/2 lengths. Tawny Port was third.
Epicenter ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 4/5 and paid $4.20 and $2.60. Zandon paid $3.20.
Preakness winner Early Voting, in his first race since that signature triumph at Pimlico in May, set the early pace but was relegated to fourth at the finish. Early Voting had won three of four starts.
“Hats off to the winner,” said Chad Brown, who trains both Zandon and Early Voting. “He didn’t break that well and he still circled the field and won nicely. He was the best horse today.”
Rosario also was aboard Epicenter in the Triple Crown disappointments. Epicenter closed from the eighth position in both races, finishing three-quarters of a length behind Rich Strike in the Derby and just over a length behind Early Voting in the Preakness.
This time it was his turn. The bay son of Not This Time also outran Zandon in the Grade 2 Risen Star, then won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds.
“”He was there for me,” Rosario said. “He’s a really good horse. He get older now, more mature, stuff like that. He tried really hard. He always tries. When we run him in the Preakness, the pace was really good and he still come back.”
Western River, a 20-1 longshot slated to run his second stakes with jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard, was scratched.
It was the culmination of a banner day for Asmussen, who won the Jim Dandy with Kensei in 2009 and Tenfold four years ago. In the 38th running of the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt, his heavily favored Jackie’s Warrior won his fourth straight race and captured his fifth career Grade 1 victory, pulling away down the stretch to easily beat Kneedeepinsnow and Willy Boi.
Jackie’s Warrior became the first horse to win a Grade 1 three years in a row at Saratoga and has won 12 times in 16 career starts.
“The great racehorses that have won here and he’s the only one to do that,” Asmussen said. “He’s the whole package.”