When the ceremonial painting of the canoe ate Saratoga . Racecourse takes place, there might be a Hall of Famer with a brush in hand.
“This is very exciting,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “I come from a racing family and (knowing) what Saratoga means to American racing and what the Travers means to Saratoga, I just want to help them paint the canoe. Saratoga is about tradition, racing is about tradition and to put your name on that cup is very special.”
The painting of the canoe in the Spa’s inland lake, of course, symbolizes a win in the famed $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1), and for the following year it will bear the colors of the winning owner of the Midsummer Derby.
So in the coming days, with or without Asmussen’s help, the canoe will be painted in the maroon and white colors of Ron Winchell’s Winchell Thoroughbreds, thanks to a dominant 5 1/4 length win by the Asmussen-trained Epicenter about the multiple grade 1 winning cyber knife August 27 at the Spa that took all the excitement out of the race for the 3-year men’s championship.
“I thought that answered a lot of questions,” Asmussen said of the division’s Eclipse Award race. “His resume looks very good and we are ready to take on them again.”
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While neither Asmussen nor Winchell would commit to the spot for Epicenter’s next start, the son of Not this time will train until November 5 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), where he will compete with older horses for the first time.
On Saturday, in front of a crowd of nearly 49,672 people. Epicenter dispelled any doubt about its leading role in the 3-year-old division with a powerhouse performance responsible for its maiden Class 1 win and helped wash away the sting of second-place favorites in both the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and the Preakness Stakes (G1). In one fell swoop he finished ahead of the horses that defeated him in the first legs of the Triple Crown, Rich Attack (Derby, 4th in the Travers) and Vote early (Preakness, 8th).
Bred by Westwind Farms from the Candy Ride mare Silent Candy, Epicenter won for the fourth time in seven 2022 starts, with three second-place finishes completing his 3-year resume, propelling his career earnings to $2,940,639. Aside from the Travers and his second place finish in the Triple Crown, he has won the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2).
“He’s exciting, isn’t he?” said Asmus. “And thank goodness a sportsman owns him. It’s everything you hope for. You start with a talented horse that gets better and better. What could be better in racing than that?”
Like many owners, Winchell dreamed of winning the Travers. But what he discovered, after he and his late father unsuccessfully chased a Travers victory for him, was that there was something better than imagining what the experience would be like.
“Winning is better than dreaming about winning,” he said after Travers’ first win for both him and Asmussen, the sport’s winning coach. “You can dream that your horse wins power down. Rarely does it happen, but to actually see it happen, what could be better than that? When he tilted forward and made his move, you could see he was rolling and ran full.
“Come Here With” arms runner (in 2016) and third and Midnight Bourbon second last year,” he added. “You want to win it so much more. It makes this win all the more special for me and my family.”
Who would be the early leader in the Travers was a bit of a puzzle heading into the race and when the gates opened to the eight starters in the 1 1/4 mile test it was Cyberknife and Florent Geroux who used their rail position to led after early splits of :23.32 and :47.63, although he had never led before after the first two calls of a two-turn race.
Isn’t life great and Early Voting chased the 9-2 second pick from the outside, while jockey Joel Rosario bid his time on the rail in fourth with Epicenter.
“We wanted to be put forward and he was,” said Rosario, who rallied fourth and last to grab the Jim Dandy with Epicenter at the Spa last month. “He broke well and he was more in the race today. For a moment I thought I could just move on to the lead, but it looked like those other horses wanted to be put more forward. I just wanted him to have a good trip.”
After Cyberknife led by half a length after six furlongs in 1:11.43, Rosario and Epicenter jumped in. They fell off the railing and went outside Cyberknife.
“I loved seeing that,” Asmussen said.
The two leaders duel shortly before Epicenter took the lead in the lane. The even money favorite ($4) extended to a 2 1/2 length lead on the eighth post and widened his margin from there, completing the 10 furlongs in 2:00.72 and Rosario a record-breaking win in 12th class at the meet. .
“He put in a dominant performance against a very good group,” said Asmussen. “He was in the rhythm he wanted to be in and he finished the mile and a quarter really strong.”
Gold Square’s Cyberknife, a son of arms runner hung up for the second time by a nose over Zandon . Owned by Saratoga resident Al Gold and trained by Brad Cox, who tried to take consecutive Travers wins, Cyberknife took a win in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1), his second-class 1 of the year.
“We were the second best horse today,” said Cox.
Jeff Drowns Zandon , one of three Travers starters for trainer Chad Brown, came in third. The son of Upstart was neck ahead of Rich Strike, the 80-1 Kentucky Derby winner who placed sixth in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) in his only other start since his Run for the Roses shock.
Purchased for $260,000 from the Bettersworth Westwind Farms consignment to the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Epicenter is the sixth foal of nine from Silent Candy and is her sole winner of the sorted stakes. She also has a 2 year old Always dreaming colt, a yearling tapestry filly, and left a work from home foal this year.
The handle for Saturday’s Saratoga card checked in with a record $55,559,315, surpassing the previous Travers Day mark of $52,129,346 in the pre-COVID days of 2019.