Triple Crown: Epicenter favored in La. Derby

American Sailor
Epicenter won the Risen Star Stakes. Photo Hodges Photography.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter will be heavily favored when he goes postward Saturday against eight rivals in hopes of winning three of the four points races on the local Road to the Kentucky Derby here at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

To accomplish this feat in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) the improving son of Not This Time will have to navigate 1 3/16 miles–the longest domestic prep on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

“First, I want to say how pleased I am with the distance of the series (Lecomte, Risen Star, Louisiana Derby) for the 3-year-olds here,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “It was important for him (Epicenter) to start at the mile then progress like he has through the longer distances and now we get to this race and the mile and three-sixteenth could be a separator. He has progressed well through each of these steps and his progress has been very encouraging up to this point and he will just have to prove it again on Saturday.”

Epicenter has thrived at Fair Grounds this winter, winning the Gun Runner Stakes on December 26 in his final start as a 2-year-old before losing by a determined head in the Lecomte Stakes (G3). He parlayed that effort into an easy front-running score last month in the Risen Star (G2) presented by Lamarque Ford under Saturday’s rider Joel Rosario. The duo will leave from post six.

The Louisiana Derby has a total of 170 points up for grabs by way of a 100-40-20-10 dispersal to the top four finishers.  Epicenter has accumulated 64 points already securing his spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

Asmussen and Winchell have won two previous Louisiana Derbies together, scoring in 2008 with Pyro and again with Gun Runner in 2016. Asmussen’s first of three Louisiana Derby wins came with Fifty Stars in 2001.

There is one horse on the grounds who defeated Epicenter this winter – Peter Cantrell and Benjamin Gase’s Call Me Midnight, winner of the Lecomte Stakes at a robust 28.50-to-1 under the meet’s leading rider James Graham. Epicenter did all the dirty work that day, carving out fast early fractions of 23 2/5 and 47, setting the table for Call Me Midnight’s late run.

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The Keith Desormeaux trainee skipped the Risen Star last month hoping to have a fresher horse for the rigors of what he hopes is a journey on the Triple Crown trail.

“Right after the Lecomte, it seemed like a no brainer to come back in the Risen Star, but after talking it over with Pete (Cantrell) and putting all the factors out there to weigh, which included a heavy campaign as a 2-year-old and the great response he had after the time off he had between the Kentucky Jockey Club and the Lecomte, plus the fact that we’re not only planning on the Louisiana Derby but the Kentucky Derby, we just thought that, this is what the facts are telling us,” Desormeaux explained.

Desormeaux is confident that Call Me Midnight (6-1) has used his works to stay sharp, especially his March 12 drill which Desormeaux considers considerably better than the 6 furlongs 1:14.00 time reported.

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“In the three-quarters work (March 12), I think the clockers missed him,” Desormeaux said. “He begins that work right in front of me and ends the work directly across from it, so it’s hard for me to miss. I thought that work was phenomenal. I’ve been at the Fair Grounds awhile, and I don’t think I’ve ever had one work 12 and change. He went from the quarter-pole to the wire in 23 and change with a great gallop out. It was just awesome. That was what I considered my last major work for him. This week was just to stretch out and have some fun and he responded with a 47 ⅖ (March 19), he finished up in 23 flat and galloped out 59 ⅘. He’s just happy. He came back to the barn after that work and it seemed similar to a gallop. It’s hard to get a horse who can do these kinds of things and he seems to be in fine form right now so we’re excited.”

Second choice in the field at 5-1 is Sumaya U.S. Stables’ Pioneer of Medina. The son of Pioneer of the Nile ships back to New Orleans for the third time this winter for trainer Todd Pletcher and gets his third different rider in jockey Tyler Gaffalione. Despite a fourth-place finish in the Risen Star, Pioneer of Medina has improved his speed figures in each of his six lifetime starts.

Co-third choice in the field at 6-1 is Breeders Cup Futurity (G1) winner Rattle N Roll for Lucky Seven Stable and trainer Kenny McPeek.

Rattle N Roll and Galt (8-1) both exit an eventful Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream on March 5. Rattle Roll finished sixth in his seasonal debut, while Galt escaped injury after losing his rider in a spill turning for home.

Kupuna and Zozos, a pair of allowance winners making their stakes debuts, are both listed at 8-1 on the morning line.


1Classic Causeway (KY) / T: Brian Lynch / O: Kentucky West Racing LLC & Clarke Cooper66
2Epicenter (KY) / T: Steve Asmussen / O: Westwind Farms64
3Un Ojo (NY) / T: Anthony Dutrow / O: Cypress Creek Equine54
4Simplification (FL) / T: Antonio Sano / O: Tami Bobo54
5Morello (KY) / T: Steve Asmussen / O: Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, Craig Taylor, and Diamond T Racing50
6Forbidden Kingdom (KY) / T: Richard Mandella / O: MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm LLC50
7Smile Happy (KY) / T: Kenny McPeek / O: Lucky Seven Stable30
8Grantham (KY) / T: Michael Maker / O: Three Diamonds Farm21
9In Due Time (KY) / T: Kelly Breen / O: Edge Racing, Medallion Racing, and Parkland Thoroughbreds20
10Ethereal Road (KY) / T: D. Wayne Lukas / O: Aaron Sones20
11Dean’s List (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher / O: WinStar Farm LLC and Siena Farm LLC20
12Barber Road (KY) / T: John Ortiz / O: WSS Racing LLC18
13Zandon (KY) / T: Chad Brown / O: Jeff Drown14
14Shipsational (NY) / T: Edward Barker / O: Iris Smith Stable LLC14
15Pappacap (FL) / T: Mark Casse / O: Buttonwood Farm Inc.14
16White Abarrio (KY) / T: Saffie Joseph Jr. / O: C2 Racing Stable LLC and La Milagrosa Stable, LLC12
17Mo Donegal (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher / O: Donegal Racing12
18Tiz the Bomb (KY) / T: Kenny McPeek / O: Magdalena Racing10
19Slow Down Andy (CA) / T: Doug O’Neill / O: Reddam Racing LLC10
20Rattle N Roll (KY) / T: Kenny McPeek / O: Lucky Seven Stable10
21O Captain * (KY) / T: Gustavo Delgado / O: OGMA Investments LLC and Jack Hardin Towell Jr.10
22Make It Big (FL) / T: Saffie Joseph Jr. / O: Red Oak Stable10
23Major General (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher / O: WinStar Farm LLC and CHC Inc10
24Jack Christopher * (KY) / T: Chad Brown / O: Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud & Peter Brant10
25Happy Jack (KY) / T: Doug O’Neill / O: Calument Farm10
26Golden Code (NY) / T: Todd Pletcher / O: Calument Farm10
27Early Voting (KY) / T: Chad Brown / O: Klaravich Stables Inc.10
28Dash Attack (KY) / T: Kenny McPeek / O: Catalyst Stable, Magdalena Racing, Kevin Pollard & Patty Slevin10
29Courvoisier (KY) / T: Kelly Breen / O: Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings & James Spry10
30Call Me Midnight (KY) / T: Keith Desormeaux / O: Peter Cantrell10