Early Voting, Creative Minister are dangers to Epicenter

May 20th, 2022

Two weeks ago, I was pretty high on #8 Epicenter for the Kentucky Derby (G1). He lived up to the billing, beaten only by a horse who benefitted from a fast pace and a great ride.

Now, for several reasons, it’s hard not to like him again in the Preakness. With a smaller field, a shorter distance, and the absence of both the Derby winner, Rich Strike, and Zandon, the horse he battled most of the stretch, he has plenty in his favor.

What’s not so appealing are his likely odds. The morning line assessor estimates he’s a 6-5 chance, while some around the world think he’s closer to an odds-on chance. If the final odds are along these lines, it’s of limited value, though as the saying goes, any price about a winner is a good one.

The question, then, is if anything is likely to beat him. Certainly it’s hard to see either #1 Simplification or #6 Happy Jack, the two other Preakness runners that contested the Derby, turning the tables. Though, Derby fourth Simplification is worth looking at for exotics.

Of the six new shooters, #3 Fenwick needs to improve a huge amount, and while #7 Armagnac has run some good races, the California form hasn’t been strong this year, so I’m going to leave him out. And though #9 Skippylongstocking ran nicely for third in the Wood Memorial (G2), I don’t see him doing much more than filling a minor exotic slot with a good run.

#4 Secret Oath will certainly have her supporters after her outstanding Kentucky Oaks (G1) victory the day before the Derby, registering a higher Brisnet Speed rating than Rich Strike did in the Derby. However, I’m a little wary of the Arkansas Derby (G1) form, in which she finished third, despite not having the best journey. Winner Cyberknife didn’t do the form any favors at Churchill Downs, and though runner-up Barber Road put in a nice Derby effort, that was kind of to be expected given he was a closer coming off a fast pace.

Nonetheless, if she’s anything like her sire, Arrogate, who got better with age, she could have enough talent to figure here with the right run.

On paper, #5 Early Voting is Epicenter’s toughest opponent. It was hard not to like his Withers Stakes (G3) victory Feb. 5, and he put up a fabulous frontrunning performance in the Wood Memorial, requiring a very good effort from Mo Donegal to just run him down.

If Early Voting gets a soft lead, he could be difficult to overhaul. I would rate Epicenter as being good enough to do that given his early speed and ability to accelerate, but if two weeks isn’t enough time for him to fully recover from his tough, speedy Derby effort, Early Voting can take advantage at reasonable odds.

That leaves #2 Creative Minister. Beaten narrowly over seven furlongs on debut, he then won easily in the Gulfstream Park slop over 1 1/16 miles, and he was impressive winning on a fast track over the same distance in a Churchill Downs allowance on Derby day.

It’s hard to gauge how good that form is, but he showed a great turn of foot in the stretch and shapes as though he’ll enjoy the extra distance. He should get a nice trip near the rail, and I can see him running past a few. He’s definitely my best roughie.

In the end, however, the race for me goes through Epicenter and Early Voting, and my plays will focus on them.

  • $3 trifecta: 8 with 2, 5 with 1, 2, 4, 5, 9 ($24)
  • $1 trifecta: 5 with 2, 8 with 1, 2, 4, 8, 9 ($8)
  • $10 show: #2 Creative Minister