Epicenter captures decisive Louisiana Derby win
New Orleans, La. – Steve Asmussen has wintered at Fair Grounds for over 25 years. The sport’s all-time winningest trainer had won both the $400,000 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) three times each, but never both on the same day – until Saturday.
Epicenter fulfilled that prophecy winning the Louisiana Derby with aplomb by 2-½-lengths over a determined Zozos – 32 minutes after stablemate Echo Zulu remained undefeated in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).
It was an epic day for owner Ron Winchell who owns Epicenter and shares ownership of Echo Zulu with L and N Racing LLC.
“Very satisfying day for sure,” Asmussen said after sweeping the last two graded stakes races. “Epicenter has made some great progress over the winter here. He’s done so well over the surface which has aided in his physical development. I just love the opportunity afforded to us with the series of races they have here.”
Epicenter leaves the Fair Grounds season winning three of the four track’s events for his division. He finished off his 2-year-old season with a dominant win in the inaugural Gun Runner Stakes. He followed that up with a hard-luck second, beaten a nose by Call Me Midnight in the Lecomte (G3) in January. He returned to the winner’s circle in front-running fashion in a very competitive edition of the Risen Star (G2). Those combined efforts launched the son of Not This Time to the top of the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 164 points.
With the $600,000 share of the winner’s purse, Epicenter became a newly-minted millionaire. He will forge ahead to Churchill Downs with a gaudy 6-4-1-0 record and $1,010,639 in earnings.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, Epicenter proved rateable after winning two races here in front-running fashion. Drawn outside in the sixth post position, Epicenter broke alertly but was beaten into the first turn by Zozos who rolled to the front end in 23.27, 47.35, and 1:11.69 for six furlongs. Epicenter backed off allowing Pioneer of Medina room to chase Zozos entering the stretch. Rosario pointed his colt for daylight in the stretch powering his way past rivals to win by 2-½ lengths in 1:54.38 for a mile and three-sixteenths.
“He took a little dirt today and he didn’t mind it,” Rosario said. “I shifted him out and he did the rest. Not only is he a nice horse, but he also tries very hard. He was off the pace today and inside of horses. It seems like he can be special. The way he did it today, the mile and a quarter shouldn’t be a problem. We will see what happens.”
Making his stakes debut for Barry and Joni Butzow, Zozos held off some late challengers to earn second and more importantly 50 points securing his spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. Pioneer of Medina, shipping for the third time this meet, picked up 20 more points giving him 25 total points as of now. Rattle N Roll finished fourth, earning 10, and now has 20 points.
Galt, Call Me Midnight, Kupuna, Curly Tail and Silent Power rounded out the finish.
“No shame in that effort at all,” Geroux said of Zozos. “That was only his third start and he ran very well. He was digging in late to hold off all challengers. That’s what you like to see.”
Trainer Brad Cox echoed his rider’s words.
“We let him run away from there and establish position,” Cox said. “I was happy with the layout of the race. Maybe a touch quick, but these are good horses and that’s what they do. He stayed on well down the lane. If we choose to go forward to the (Kentucky) Derby he’ll get a lot out of this to propel him forward and that’s what he’ll need to take that path.”
The Louisiana Derby victory was the fourth for Asmussen and the second time Winchell and Asmussen teamed up to win this race following Gun Runner’s score in 2016.
About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN), also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 15 off-track betting parlors throughout Southeast Louisiana. The 150th Thoroughbred Racing Season – highlighted by the 109th running of the Louisiana Derby – will run from November 25, 2021 through March 27, 2022. More information is available online at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.
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