Epicenter wins Travers Stakes decisively at Saratoga

Sports

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — If there were any questions about Epicenter after his runner-up finishes in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, they’ve likely disappeared.

The favorite Saturday for the 153rd running of the $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, Epicenter left his rivals in his dusty wake with a riveting stretch run, beating Cyberknife by 5 1/4 lengths for his first Grade 1 triumph.

“He looked like he was going one speed and then he kept building and building and building and I felt pretty good turning for home,” jockey Joel Rosario said after his record 12th graded stakes victory of the Saratoga meet. “He had a helluva nice closing speed.”

Epicenter, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes, 0.72 seconds and paid $4.00 to win, $2.80 to place and $2.30 for show. Cyberknife paid $4.10 and $3.30, and Zandon was $2.90 to show.

It was the second stakes victory for Epicenter at Saratoga in a month.

“It looked like he had a chance to show who he was and I believe that he did,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the Travers for the first time. “I thought that answered a lot of questions. For Epicenter to have competed in the Derby, in the Preakness and still have this much horse now, we’re extremely proud of that. His résumé looks very good and we’re willing to run against them again.”

Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike was fourth. Gilded Age, Artorius, Ain’t Life Grand, and Early Voting completed the order of finish.

Epicenter was fourth and began to close on leader Cyberknife as the field neared the top of the stretch, then took control.

“You could tell he was getting away from us a little bit,” Cyberknife’s trainer Brad Cox said. “He’s a very good horse.”

The eight-horse field was stacked with Preakness winner Early Voting and Haskell winner Cyberknife, who set the early pace. Chad Brown, leading trainer at Saratoga with 34 wins entering the day, saddled three horses — Early Voting, Zandon, and Artorius — in his bid to win the Travers for the first time.

This was the first race for Rich Strike, the stunning Kentucky Derby winner at 80-1 odds with jockey Sonny Leon, since he finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes in June.

“He did a good job coming back after the layoff,” Leon said. “I think, mentally, he’s growing up.”

Early Voting did not run in the Derby and skipped the Belmont, making the Travers the first time he had raced against Rich Strike. Both were far behind the winner, who staked his claim as the top 3-year-old in the country.

A month ago Epicenter, owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, won a four-horse stretch duel that included Early Voting and Zandon in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, the traditional prep race for the Travers. Epicenter charged along the outside as the field of four was bunched together across the track at the top of the stretch, then pulled away to hold off Zandon by 1 1/2 lengths.

“I thought his Jim Dandy was considerably his most professional race until today,” Asmussen said. ”After the Derby and the Preakness, you’re the Derby favorite and he’s still not a Grade 1 winner. That made the Travers that important to us.”

The Travers culminated a customary big day of racing at the venerable track in upstate New York. In other stakes races: even-money favorite Technical Analysis led the entire way and held off Fluffy Socks by a half-length to win the Grade 2 Ballston Spa for fillies and mares 4 years old and upward on the turf; Cody’s Wish overtook overwhelming favorite Jackie’s Warrior in the final strides to capture the Forego by 1 1/4 lengths, handing runner-up Jackie’s Warrior his first loss in five starts this year and depriving him of his fourth Grade 1 triumph at Saratoga in his final race at the track; Jack Christopher held off Gunite to take the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial; Malathaat charged past Search Results to win the Grade 1 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares 4 years old and up; and Gufo came from far back to beat Mira Mission in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 Sword Dancer on the inner turf course.

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