Preakness Stakes Notes for 5/19/22

Epicenter gallops at Pimlico in preparation for the Preakness Stakes. (Maryland Jockey Club photo)

Epicenter Ready for First Road Game in Preakness

(Edited Press Release)

With trainer Steve Asmussen’s premier division spending the winter stabled in New Orleans and most of the rest of year in Louisville, favored Epicenter will play his first road game in the 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) May 21 at Pimlico Race Course.

Starting out at Churchill Downs, then going through Fair Grounds’ four-race series of Derby preps leading into the Kentucky Derby (G1), Epicenter has raced only over the tracks where he’s been stabled. That changes with the 1 3/16-mile Preakness in Baltimore.


“I like how he’s settled in and how he looked over the racetrack,” Asmussen said Thursday morning after the 6-5 morning-line Preakness favorite galloped. “That’s what we were concerned about coming in here, because of the fact that he’d been at Churchill, and he’d been at the Fair Grounds. Basically, he was home when he ran in all his previous races. This will be new as far as running.

“But from what we’ve seen from the two days that he’s been on the racetrack and his demeanor in the stall, he’s been consistent. His appetite has been the same. He’s cleaned up. He’s been very relaxed going to the track,” he added. “He’s looked very lively on the racetrack, and he’s cooled out very comfortably. So, I think he’s settled in extremely well. But that is a variable that we were concerned about coming in.”

Another variable: temperatures expected to climb into the mid to upper 90s Saturday.

“I’m as concerned as you can be, if you’ve never dealt with it or performed under it being that warm,” Asmussen said. “I mean, it’s just getting to that time of year. But it will also let us know how they will handle it going forward, since it won’t be the last time they’re faced with it.

“… You handle what you have control over and put yourself in the best position possible, and try to eliminate as many variables that could get in the way of that,” he added. “I think the variable we’re not sure of is if it is actually 95, 96 degrees here, and we know it can get pretty sticky here in Baltimore. All of them are going to have to deal with that, but he’s a big horse turning back in 14 days. Make sure he’s drinking plenty of water and he’s hydrated, just like your kids.”

Off impressive triumphs in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2) in New Orleans, Epicenter also was sent off the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He settled into eighth – the farthest he’s been back in a race – under 2021 Eclipse Award-winning jockey Joel Rosario, before moving between horses on the far turn to get into striking position and taking the lead with a quarter of a mile to go.

Epicenter kept the horse that seemed to be his main competition, Blue Grass (G1) winner Zandon, at bay in the stretch. But just when Epicenter seemed destined to give Asmussen and owner Ron Winchell their first Derby victory, 80-1 shot Rich Strike powered up the rail to win by three-quarters of a length after being last early behind a record pace.

Of all the scenarios Asmussen had played through his mind, he admitted right after the Derby that the Rich Strike outcome was not one.

“I believe it was the longest shot on the board that won the race, so you can’t count anybody out,” he said Thursday. “… With us, we’re concerned about the things we have control over, the condition of our horse and getting another top-level performance out of him. From this year’s results in the Derby, you won’t take anybody for granted, and you’ll try to cover your bases as far as being prepared for everything."

Asmussen acknowledged being disappointed that Rich Strike was kept out of the Preakness to await the Belmont Stakes.

“I wanted another shot at it, maybe just me being ignorant. But you’re here to compete,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll meet up again down the road, hopefully.”

Creative Minister Makes His Way Into Main Event

Creative Minister has never been in a marquee race, but he’s also never run on anything but big-race programs.

The 3-year-old colt’s big-day experience continues Saturday, but this time Creative Minister will make his stakes debut in the Preakness Stakes.

Heretofore, Creative Minister has been in two maiden and one allowance race, all on the undercard of major stakes for 3-year-olds. He rallied to finish second by a neck in his debut at seven furlongs on the March 5 Fountain of Youth (G2) undercard at Gulfstream Park; he graduated by 1 ½ lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G1) program April 9; and captured a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance by 2 ¾ lengths on the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1) card at Churchill Downs.

“When he ran in his maiden race at Gulfstream, it was the wrong distance,” McPeek said Thursday morning after Creative Minister galloped. “We really were trying to get a mile and a sixteenth into him, but the race didn’t fill. But his seven-eighths race was impressive. I was actually happy that he ran second. I knew that I could come back on opening week at Keeneland, and there’d be a good spot for him there going two turns.

“He’s jumped through those two hoops pretty easily, in my opinion. He’s trained well, and he’s a good-doing (eating) horse and sturdy,” he added. “Certainly, on the physical, you can look at him and say, ‘This is a really nice horse.’ … These things are wide open, and you get one opportunity.”

Creative Minister also has raced in only large fields. In fact, the Preakness field of nine horses is the smallest he’s encountered.

“I’ve brought a list of horses here over my career,” McPeek said, “and watching him today, I’m as confident as I’ve ever been going into a race. You’ve got to be eternally optimistic as a horse trainer and an owner, and this colt is doing super.

“… His last race, he tucked inside. He took all the dirt and then he kicked out and kicked on. He’s going to have to do that this weekend,” he added. “I like the fact that he drew inside [Post #2]. I think [jockey] Brian [Hernandez] is really good at the inside trip. I think if he can save some ground and find the right running spot, he’s got a chance.”

Creative Minister – owned by Paul Fireman’s Fern Circle Stables, Greg Back’s Back Racing LLC and McPeek – was supplemented into the Preakness for $150,000 because he wasn’t nominated to the Triple Crown by either the Jan. 29 deadline ($600) or the March 28 cutoff ($6,000). Of course, he never ran in a race until early March, and McPeek was thinking more about summer races such as Saratoga’s Travers Stakes (G1).

“It looked like he wasn’t going to get ready,” McPeek said. “But he has worked against all my best horses, and he’s held his own against all my best horses. He just was a horse that needed to learn the routine.

“As we saw a couple of weeks ago, these races are really weird,” he added, referencing one-time claimer Rich Strike’s Derby victory at 80-1 odds. “If a horse is doing well coming into it, then you can’t be scared to pull the trigger.”

Early Voting Feeling Feisty at Pimlico

By the way he moved and acted Thursday, Early Voting showed assistant trainer Baldo Hernandez that he has settled in nicely at Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness Stakes.

Early Voting:

Klaravich Stables’ son of the top young sire Gun Runner shipped in from trainer Chad Brown’s barn at Belmont Park on Tuesday. He went out to the track Thursday around 8:30 a.m. following the renovation break, and Hernandez reported that everything was fine in Early Voting’s world.

“It was a normal gallop, a mile and a quarter,” Hernandez said. “It was nice, smooth like we always do. He handled the track really well. He likes it.”

Early Voting served up a bit of feel-good, feisty behavior after he had gotten in his exercise under Marino Garcia.

“Coming home here he reared up,” Hernandez said, smiling. “I think that’s pretty good. He’s always like that. He’s the same.”

Lukas: Secret Oath on Her Game for Preakness

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Thursday morning that he likes the way his filly Secret Oath, the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner, is approaching the Preakness Stakes. Lukas is seeking his record-tying seventh win in the Preakness and 15th success in the Triple Crown series.

Lukas said Secret Oath was just stretching her legs when she went to the track to jog and gallop Thursday.

“The big secret of probably trying to win this thing is to read the horse, see what you’ve got in front of you, see what they need and don’t need,” he said. “With the turnaround of two weeks, the big thing is fluid levels, electrolytes, stuff like that is more important than how far we gallop. It doesn’t make a lot of difference. You’re just trying to get her filled up. Being a filly, she’s real rangy and slight-built anyhow. She isn’t tucked up. I feel pretty good about her.”