Kentucky Derby Notes and Workouts for 5/1/22

Epicenter (inside) breezed five furlongs in advance of the Kentucky Derby. (Coady Photography)

Epicenter, Echo Zulu Turn in Final Kentucky Derby Works

The last major hurdle for the expected Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite was cleared on May 1 as Winchell Thoroughbreds’ multiple graded stakes winner Epicenter posted a solid five-furlong breeze at Churchill Downs, his last major work before the first leg of the Triple Crown.

With rain soaking the track overnight, trainer Steve Asmussen opted to push the works for both Epicenter and leading Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender Echo Zulu back a few hours in hopes of catching a drier surface later in the morning. When Epicenter did emerge during the special training period at 7:30 a.m. ET for Oaks and Derby hopefuls, the son of Not This Time was his usual stalwart self as he worked in company inside of stablemate Alejandro, covering the distance in 1:01.

Over a muddy track, exercise rider Roberto Howell piloted Epicenter through splits of :12.60, :24.40, :36.20, :48.40 and galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.80.

“Honestly, I have so much confidence in Epicenter right now I don’t think you could overdo it (with a horse like him),” Asmussen said. “He has taken a lot of training extremely easy. Including, I thought he took the Louisiana Derby extremely easy, how he came back from the test barn and walked into the barn, and that's why his training and his works ever since have been faster, or stronger, than is the norm for me.

“I think (Epicenter) is in a beautiful rhythm, and we are trying to create the circumstances and prepare for what we are expecting to happen in the races this week.”

Epicenter stamped himself as the one to beat on the first Saturday of May by virtue of his victory in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds on March 26. Where the bay colt led from start to finish when he captured the Risen Star Stakes (G2) on Feb. 19, he showed versatility when he settled just off the pace in the Louisiana Derby before kicking on for a 2 ½-length victory.

Asmussen is seeking the first Kentucky Derby victory of his Hall of Fame career as he is 0-for-23 in the 10-furlong classic.

“I’m not running. I’m good,” he laughed when asked if he was nervous. “I am unbelievably excited to be doing this well with this much on the line. I had a pretty anxious drive (from Oaklawn Park) last night with rain and thunderstorms for most of it, and if it's meant to be then it's meant to be, but everything seems to be working out perfectly. This year’s Oaks and Derby are extremely exciting with how strong the races look and how well all the horses are doing going into it.”

Echo Zulu, who normally goes out first set at 5:15 a.m., made a late appearance on Sunday as she headed to the track for her work at 9 a.m. The reigning champion juvenile filly breezed an easy half-mile in :50.80 while producing fractions of :13.20 and :25.60.

“She has put in solid training and had a huge move last Sunday,” Asmussen said. “I just felt that we’re there, so we went for her typical easy half mile. I want her as razor sharp and fleet as she can be for Friday.”

Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and L and N Racing, Echo Zulu is unbeaten in five career starts and capped off her championship 2-year-old season with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Del Mar last November. The daughter of Gun Runner comes into the Oaks with just one start under her belt this year, a nose victory in the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).

“I thought she won the Fair Grounds Oaks with natural ability and class,” Asmussen said. “She has put in solid training for the Oaks.”

Early Voting to Bypass Kentucky Derby

The expected defection of graded stakes winner Early Voting from the Kentucky Derby field became official Sunday when trainer Chad Brown confirmed he would bypass the classic with the lightly-raced colt and instead point him toward a start in the May 21 Preakness Stakes (G1).

Though Early Voting was 15th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard as a result of his win in the Wither Stakes (G3) and runner-up finish in the Wood Memorial (G2), Brown said he thought a Derby start might be throwing the son of Gun Runner - who has just three starts to his credit - into the deep end of the pool.

“We weren’t likely to come (to the Derby with him) but we wanted to leave our options open and just see if there were any major defectors from the race that could change maybe the pace of the race,” said Brown, who will still be represented in the Derby by Grade 1 winner Zandon. “As long as the field is staying the way it is, we’re going to stick with our original plan. He’s a lightly raced horse who hadn’t had any real experience with challenging trips or anything like that. To throw him into deep water with a 20-horse field, at this point in time with him, I don’t think it's the right thing.”

Early Voting’s defection cleared the way for Pioneer of Medina, most recently third in the Louisiana Derby, to move into the 20th spot and into the Kentucky Derby field. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who also is set to saddle Wood Memorial winner Mo Donegal and Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Charge It in the first leg of the Triple Crown, said a decision on which jockey will ride Pioneer of Medina is pending.

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