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Horse Racing

Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter headed for Preakness rematch with Rich Strike

The field for the 147th Preakness Stakes received a major boost Wednesday with the news that Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter will come to Baltimore for a rematch with his unexpected conqueror, Rich Strike.

David Fiske, bloodstock manager for Epicenter’s owner, Winchell Thoroughbreds, confirmed the colt would be in the Preakness after he jogged and galloped on the track at Churchill Downs. Trainer Steve Asmussen has been pleased with Epicenter’s fitness since the morning after the Derby.

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“Steve said he was really pleased with how he went back to the track this morning,” Fiske said Wednesday. “He said he looked great. I mean, we were going [to the Preakness]. It was just that [Epicenter] needed to tell us that he wanted to go.”

Epicenter is expected to breeze a half-mile at Churchill Downs on Monday and travel to Pimlico Race Course by van on Tuesday.

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Asmussen was as stunned as everyone else Saturday when Rich Strike, an 80-1 Derby long shot, roared up to pass Epicenter, who was battling to hold off Zandon at the front of the 20-horse pack. Epicenter had done nothing wrong to that point, continuing the pattern of steady excellence he had established with victories in the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes. He simply had no answer for a historic charge.

Now, he’ll have another chance to prove he really is the best in this 3-year-old class, much as a previous Asmussen trainee, Curlin, did by winning the 2007 Preakness after he had finished third in the Derby. Epicenter could be favored in the morning line over Rich Strike, who had won just once in seven career starts before the Derby.

In another piece of positive news for the Preakness, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he will enter Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath. The presence of a top filly always creates extra excitement around the race, with victories by Swiss Skydiver in 2020 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009 ranking among the most memorable Preakness results of the last two decades.

“She’s gone back to the track, and she was very sharp out there today. I don’t see anything about her that would change our decision right now [regarding the Preakness],” said Lukas, a six-time Preakness winner. “You can say probable. Maybe a probable-plus …. If she does that [wins], she’s got a chance to be Horse of the Year, when you step out of the box that far.”

He added that Epicenter will be difficult to beat.

“He’s a legitimate favorite,” Lukas said. “He’s a very good horse. Nobody can go over there and think they’ll just run by him. He is going to be awfully tough to beat. You are taking a shot if you take him on.”

Secret Oath has won five times in eight career starts. She has competed against males before, finishing third in the April 2 Arkansas Derby behind Kentucky Derby starters Cyberknife and Barber Road.

Lukas said Ethereal Road, a late scratch from the Derby field, will also travel to Pimlico but will likely run in the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard.

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The most significant remaining unknown for the Preakness field is Zandon, who finished third in the Derby after starting last week as the morning-line favorite. Trainer Chad Brown wants to watch him this week at Belmont Park before deciding over the weekend whether to bring him to Baltimore. Brown already plans to saddle Early Voting, who skipped the Derby despite earning a spot, for the Preakness.

147th Preakness Stakes

Pimlico Race Course

May 21

TV: Chs. 11, 4 (coverage begins at 2 p.m.)


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