Near record heat for Preakness another test for Epicenter

Black-Eyed Susan Midnight Stroll participant, along with practice rider Humberto Gomez, gallops during a morning practice before the Black-Eyed Susan horse race at Pimlico Racecourse, Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Baltimore.  (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Black-Eyed Susan Midnight Stroll participant, along with practice rider Humberto Gomez, gallops during a morning practice before the Black-Eyed Susan horse race at Pimlico Racecourse, Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)


Epicenter lost the Kentucky Derby due to high pace.

Now he will face hot temperatures in the Preakness.

Two weeks after being overtaken by Rich Strike 80-1 just before the Derby finish line, Epicenter enters Saturday’s Preakness as favorites and clearly the class of the nine-horse field. In a race without Rich Strike and no chance of a Triple Crown, there is still buzz largely because of the filly Secret Oath and that it will be a test of whether Epicenter can beat the heat that could be approaching a record.

“You deal with what you have control over and put yourself in the best possible position and try to eliminate as many variables that might get in the way of that,” Epicenter coach Steve Asmussen said. “If it’s actually 95, 96 degrees here, and we know it can get pretty sticky when it’s hot in Baltimore, then I think they’re all going to have to deal with that.

“He’s a big horse that comes back in 14 days, so make sure he drinks plenty of water and stays hydrated, just like your kids.”

The National Weather Service predicts a high of 94 degrees Fahrenheit (34.4 Celsius) for Saturday afternoon, with just a slight dip ahead of the 7:01 p.m. EDT start time for the 147th running of the Preakness. The record is 96, set in 1934 when High Quest won the race.

Epicenter is the 6-5 morning line favorite to join this list of Preakness winners after finishing a second bad luck in the Derby. Even after owner Rick Dawson decided against leading Rich Strike to Pimlico Racecourse to embark on an unlikely Triple Crown, his upset at Churchill Downs was still the talking point of the week, especially for those around of the horse that rode towards victory until it was not.

“Even my 6-year-old after the race he looked at me and said, ‘Dad, Epicenter ran the best race,'” Epicenter owner Ron Winchell said. race, so the confidence level is great. But in any big race, you just hope to show up and race, and so I think if he shows up and races, we’re in a good position.

Kenny McPeek, who won the 2020 Preakness with his filly Swiss Skydiver, called Epicenter “definitely the horse to beat” and said the favorite would likely have to step back for his gray shot 10-1 Creative Minister to finish first. But he and majority co-owner Greg Back felt confident enough to shell out $150,000 to enter him in the race.

McPeek told Back if Creative Minister won his race on the Derby undercard, “We’ll race him wherever you want him to race – the moon if you want.” He was quick enough to prove that he belonged with the company of the other Preakness horses.

“What did Wayne Gretzky say? You never take a hit that you don’t take,” McPeek said. “It’s the fun of sport. … If you feel you have a legitimate chance to hit the board, you can’t be scared because there’s a lot going on.

A lot would have to happen for 50-1 long shot Fenwick to pull off another Triple Crown clash and a bit less for 30-1 Happy Jack, who finished 14th in the Derby, or 20-1 Skippylongstocking to win the 1.65 million, 1 3/16-mile Preakness. There’s a lot of respect for the odds at 6-1 Simplification, who finished fourth in the Derby, as well as 7-2 second pick on the Early Voting morning line.

But the most chatter around the Preakness is about Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, who 86-year-old Hall of Fame coach D. Wayne Lukas is betting he can beat the boys. With the Derby winner absent – ​​the fourth year in a row there is no real chance of securing a Triple Crown at the Preakness – the focus is on the filly in what Lukas called an otherwise vanilla race.

“If you don’t have the filly here, the mood sucks,” said Lukas, who is aiming for a record seventh Preakness victory. “The filly made sure it had at least a bit of interest.”

McPeek was glad it felt like “old days” at the Preakness, especially after it was staged in October two years ago with no fans in the stands. He fondly recalls his first trip to Baltimore in 1995, when Lukas was in his prime.

“I’ve done a few miles since and I’m missing a few belt loops and I’ve since shaved my head, but Wayne is still here,” McPeek said. “Where’s Bob?” »

Bob, of course, is coach Bob Baffert, two-time Triple Crown winner, whose absence at Pimlico is shocking after years in the spotlight. Currently serving a suspension in Kentucky for a medication violation that is honored by Maryland and other states, he has not been allowed to enter horses in the Derby or Preakness.

But he is present in the late-entry 12-1 Armagnac, which Baffert trained and saddled in three races before transferring to former assistant Tim Yakteen. After Taiba finished 12th and Messier 15th in the Derby with the shadow of Baffert hanging over the race, there is less pressure this time around.

“I try to fly under the radar,” Yakteen said. “I enjoyed the Derby. I wish we had had a different result.

Winchell, Asmussen and Epicenter jockey Joel Rosario feel the same after returning home under the twin spiers of Churchill Downs thinking they had won the Kentucky Derby.

“It was very, very exciting at that time,” Rosario said. ” What can I say ? The horse had run very well. It would have been really nice if we could have won that, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Concerned about the heat and disappointed not to have another opportunity to beat Rich Strike, Asmussen isn’t worried about positioning himself at the Preakness as long as Epicenter is “leading on the wire”. He shares his owner’s confidence but is a little more wary of expressing it after the crushing defeat at Derby.

“It was, I believe, the longest shot on the board that actually won the race,” he said, “so you can’t count anyone.”


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Naomi C. Amerson