Another Week, Another Top-Rated Horse: Epicenter Dominates Risen Star

Written By Paul Bergeron on February 21, 2022 - Last Updated on March 1, 2022
kentucky derby

No fewer than five horses from last week’s Derby Dozen raced in Saturday’s Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Our No. 8 Epicenter was much the best, and his 98 Beyer Speed Figure notches him second-highest among 3-year-olds behind Messier’s 103. So let’s move him up to the No. 1 spot.

The mile-and-an-eighth Risen Star was the lone Kentucky Derby prep of the weekend. So horseplayers can now spend this week sorting through the performances of then-No. 1-rated Smile Happy (placed second), No. 2 Zandon (third), No. 6 Slow Down Andy (sixth) and No. 11 Pappacap (eighth).

Those not happy with those efforts can now add several other Derby hopefuls who are soon to get in the gate for key Derby preps coming up.

Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.’s White Abarrio will skip the March 5 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), but he will be represented by A.P.’s Secret in that 1 1/16-mile prep.

Trainer Graham Motion’s Belgrade (2 for 2 at Tampa Bay) could follow an allowance optional claiming race win Feb. 19 by entering the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby — and its 1 1/16-mile test for 50 standings points — on March 12.

Last year’s Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Brad Cox (Mandaloun, given Medina Spirit’s disqualification) might have picked up a Louisiana Derby starter in Cyberknife (5 2-2-0). On Saturday, Cyberknife bounced back with a first-level allowance win after a disappointing sixth in the Lecomte weeks ago.

Finally, Barese, who is 3 for 3 with his victory in the one turn, one-mile Gander Stakes on Feb. 12 — for which he earned a solid 87 Beyer Speed Figure — will likely enter the Grade 2, 100-point Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9.

All that despite bobbling at the break and losing his left front shoe. “[Barese] continues to impress me,” trainer Mike Maker said. “Not just that he won, but that he [broke so poorly] and took a shoe off, and to still be able to put in a performance like that was pretty significant.”

Looking to Saturday’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes Derby prep, trainer Bob Baffert has an excellent history at Oaklawn this time of year. It appears that this will continue even with Baffert ineligible to enter horses in The Derby.

Baffert’s Newgrange should be a heavy favorite and most likely winner here, although Barber Road ran a good second in the Southwest behind Newgrange after early trouble.

The Derby Dozen, week 3

We’ve officially entered into the 50- and 100-point qualifying races with just over two months to go until post time at Churchill Downs. Their change in position from the prior week is in parenthesis.

  1. (+7) Epicenter (trainer Steve Asmussen): The third betting choice on Saturday, Epicenter impressively scored with a hand ride, proving himself at nine furlongs. He’s now atop the Derby standings after the 50-point Risen Star win. Considering how easily he won, it appears that longer distances should not be a problem, and if pressed in the race, the 98 figure he earned could have been higher.
  2.  (-1) Smile Happy (Kenny McPeek): Smile Happy broke nearer the back of the field than the front. He raced eighth before rallying in the stretch to take second with a career-best 94 Beyer, earning 20 Derby points.
  3. (-1) Zandon (Chad Brown): Zandon, racing for the first time since Dec. 4, leaped at the start, leaving him last of 10 for the first half of the Risen Star before performing well in the stretch to grab third and 10 Derby points. “He lost all chance to win out of the gate,” Brown said. “It was encouraging that he persevered and was able to pick up a piece of it, especially in his first race after a layoff.” He’s expected to go next at the Blue Grass Stakes on April 9 at Keeneland.
  4. (-1) White Abarrio (Saffie Joseph Jr.): Sports a 97 Beyer and remains pointed toward the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream on April 2.
  5.  (-1) Classic Causeway (Brian Lynch): DRF’s Marty McGee adds this commentary to Classic Causeway’s win in the Sam F. Davis on Feb. 12: “Scarcely could have been more impressive in seasonal bow; rated kindly, but let’s see him do that from off it.”
  6.  (+1) Mo Donegal (Todd Pletcher): Pletcher said the 100-point Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 9 will be Mo Donegal’s next start. “I actually thought he ran a sneaky good race the other day [third in the Holy Bull],” he said. “He was making up some ground late. It’s just that everything kind of unfolded the wrong way for him, and it took him a while to get out in the clear and [be] able to make his run.”
  7.  (-2) Early Voting (Brown): He could potentially need a prep before April to get ready.
  8.  (+1) Rattle N Roll (McPeek): Rattle N Roll, who is pointed toward the March 5 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream, could wind up in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby, McPeek said.
  9.  (+3) Emmanuel (Pletcher): Emmanuel could next be pointed to the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on March 5. Pletcher has penciled in the colt as progressing through the G1 Florida Derby en route to Louisville.
  10.  (NC) Simplification (Antonio Sano): From the barn that brought you fan favorite Gunnevera, Simplification is another underdog, and the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on March 5 looms large for his storybook.
  11.  (NR) In Due Time (Kelly Breen): His Beyer Speed Figure of 92 is among the fastest at a mile of any 3-year-old in the country this year. His first two starts both came at sprint distances. The Kentucky Derby goes a mile and a quarter.
  12.  (NR) Chasing Time (Asmussen): One other that could prove he belongs is Chasing Time, who stretches out for the Rebel after an easy win in an Oaklawn sprint. It’s uncertain that the added distance will help Chasing Time, but he is a bit of a wild card in this one.

Dropped out: No. 6 Slow Down Andy; No. 11 Pappacap

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