Track apps

amNY at the Track: Will Epicenter assert itself at the top of the division in the Travers Stakes?

Epicenter was denied the Kentucky Derby in the spring, but now trainer Steve Asmussen is hoping the colt will win the “Midsummer Derby” in Saturday’s Travers Stakes in Saratoga.

Hundred yards from the finish line at Churchill Downs on May 7, Epicenter looked to be wearing a garland of red roses soon. But one a hundred yards later, it was Rich Strike who got the wreath of roses, not Epicenter, crushing Asmussen’s Kentucky Derby dreams – the nation’s winningest coach whose resume includes victories in the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Turns out Asmussen has yet to win a Travers Stakes. But he is in good company; according David Grening of Daily Racing FormBrad Cox, one of the trainers who entered horses in this year’s Midsummer Derby, has already saddled a Travers Stakes champion.

Asmussen and Epicenter must therefore fight history and seven other horses – including Rich Strike, Derby winner by far, Early Voting, winner of Preakness Stakes, and Cyberknife, champion of Haskell Stakes – if they hope to make it to the circle of winners of Saratoga this weekend and earn a garland of red and white carnations.

He will also face the challenge of embattled trainer Chad Brown, who enters three horses in the Travers, run by Early Voting. Brown was recently arrested for obstructed breathing in an alleged domestic violence incidentbut he continues to train while the case remains under investigation.

The challenges of Travers
Saturday August 27
Saratoga Racetrack, Saratoga Springs, NY
Scholarship: $1.25 million
Distance: 1 ¼ miles
Conditions: three-year-old colts and geldings
TV: Fox (4:30-6 p.m. coverage)

Running ?

Odds via New York Racing Association

Analysis and choice

Judging by the peloton’s past performance, there’s no clear speed in the race other than early voting in the lead, and he was terribly exposed last in the Jim Dandy when he took an easy lead, then flattened out in the stretch to finish last in the four-horse field.

It’s starting to look like Early Voting’s victory in the Preakness might have been an aberration, aided by a speed-promoting Pimlico track and Epicenter taking a terrible trip. Maybe a tactical change could help early voting, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose Ortiz tries something different here.

Nevertheless, attention should go towards Epicenter and Cyberknife. Both ran solid races last; in fact, they each earned the same Beyer speed figure (102) for their wins in the 9-stage Jim Dandy and Haskell Stakes, respectively.

Cyberknife ran his Haskell two seconds faster than Epicenter and charged inside into the stretch after securing the single post. Epicenter was also in play as they come in the Jim Dandy, stalking the front end throughout the race before accelerating into the stretch and pulling away.

But of the two horses, Cyberknife showed marked improvement from the Kentucky Derby, where he got caught in heavy traffic and finished 18th. He showed heart with a bold victory in the Matt Winn Stakes just before his triumph at Haskell – and he proved to be a much faster horse than he was when he won the Derby of the Arkansas in April.

This momentum makes him a real threat – perhaps the only real threat in this area – to bring down Epicenter.

Epicenter will likely explode at a price below equal silver. Even Cyberknife could also flirt with lower odds, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll start at less than 9-5. And if you get Cyberknife at its morning odds or better, then you’ve got a steal.

Definitely consider Cyberknife and Epicenter in your exact bets.

If you like a live longshot, well, how about Rich Strike? He trained well before the Travers. The long layoff from his Belmont Stakes disaster makes him feel fresh, and on a racetrack known for its upheavals in high-stakes racing, Rich Strike could find his way back into the history books.

At the very least, consider it in your Exotics. Sorry, it won’t be 81-1 this time around.

Our choices : Cyberknife, Epicenter, Rich Strike