Still trying to process how his Kentucky Derby futility streak hit 24 races, trainer Steve Asmussen was non-committal on whether Derby runner up Epicenter would run the May 21 Preakness Stakes.
The two-time Preakness winner was very committal on his level of disbelief at what transpired 50 yards from his first Derby score in 24 races. That’s when 80/1 long shot Rich Strike roared up on Epicenter’s inside and snatched the roses off Epicenter’s waiting back.
“I can’t believe it after Epicenter’s effort,” Asmussen said after Saturday’s Derby. “And the scenario in which I went 0-for-24, you couldn’t make up. I got beat by the horse that just got in.”
That was a reference to Rich Strike getting into the Derby field from the also-eligible list five minutes before Friday’s 9 a.m. ET scratch deadline. For that, Rich Strike trainer Eric Reed can thank four-time Derby winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The Hall of Fame trainer scratched Ethereal Road right under the wire, opening the door for Rich Strike’s upset.
Lukas, Rosario still in disbelief
“I was just talking to Steve, (saying) if I don’t scratch, he wins it,” Lukas said.
Joel Rosario, who piloted Epicenter to that runner up finish, was even more disbelieving than Asmussen.
“Everything was perfect. We thought we were home. Too bad that horse got us right at the end,” Rosario said. “I thought Epicenter ran a tremendous race. He did everything. He responded when I asked him. We ran too good to get beat.”
As for Lukas, the six-time Preakness winner said he will decide later this week on entering Ethereal Road and filly Secret Oath for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Brown has one Preakness probable — and it’s not Zandon
Meanwhile, the other victim of Rich Strike’s improbable trip: Zandon, is also a Preakness question mark. Trainer Chad Brown said he’s going to talk to owner Jeff Drown about running the Derby’s third place colt in the Preakness. But Brown will have Early Voting in the 1 3/16-mile race. He decided late last month to take the Wood Memorial runner up out of the Derby and save him for the Preakness.
“He’s in New York right now and has been working super up there,” Brown told the Maryland Jockey Club. “We feel pretty good about that decision (skipping the Derby), especially the way the pace worked out.”
Brown too, thought his Derby futility streak – now 0-for-8 – was in peril. Zandon was right with Epicenter coming down the stretch. One of those two looked certain to win. Rider Flavien Prat said he thought he “was going to be a winner” at the eighth pole.
Simplification headed to Preakness
“We really had a great trip,” Brown said. “Epicenter was in front of us closer to the pace and Flavien really just followed Joel all the way. Turning for home, he was in a great position and was really battling with Epicenter. (Rich Strike) just snuck up our inside and we were third best.”
The fourth-place Derby horse, Simplification, will run the Preakness, according to trainer Antonio Sano.
Kenny McPeek said ninth-place Tiz the Bomb, who beat Rich Strike in both Turfway Park preps, will skip the Preakness. He’s non-committal on Smile Happy, who finished eighth in the Derby. But McPeek did say Creative Minister is possible, after that horse won a 1 1/16-mile allowance on the Derby undercard.
Saffie Joseph Jr. said 16th-place finisher and Florida Derby winner White Abarrio will not run the Preakness. But Joseph counters with Skippylongstocking, who he said will likely run in Pimlico. Skippylongstocking finished third in the Wood Memorial behind Mo Donegal.
Pletcher’s trio unlikely for Pimlico
Speaking of fifth-place finisher Mo Donegal, the best of Todd Pletcher’s three Derby contenders, is unlikely for the Preakness. Pletcher rarely runs the Triple Crown’s middle jewel and said Mo Donegal, Charge It (17th) and Pioneer of Medina (19th) are likely headed back to the trainer’s New York base.
As for Tim Yakteen’s California duo of Taiba (12th) and Messier (15th), he said both came out of their Derby travails in good shape. He told Churchill Downs a Preakness decision on Taiba “will be made in the next 48 hours.”
Messier may have seen his last long trip
Messier’s Derby trip may have made his decision easier. He was part of the early leaders, but tired shortly after taking the lead with a half mile to go.
“I thought (jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) rode a good race on Messier,” Yakteen said. “I’m not sure, but maybe we have to consider distance limitations with him.”
The Pimlico racing office said that non-Derby starters In Due Time, MorelloMorello and Un Ojo were Derby eligible but scratched.