Epicenter steps up, top challengers wait in Travers

August 4th, 2022

The tactics may have caught observers by surprise, closing last-to-first from an inside post, but Epicenter reasserted his supremacy when easily winning Saturday’s Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga.

It’s a tenuous edge in a scrambled three-year-old male division that produced three different winners of Triple Crown races. Epicenter wasn’t one of them, coming up a little short in second as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), but the Steve Asmussen-trained colt has dominated lesser spots, capturing his last three graded stakes attempts outside the Triple Crown.

He netted a career-best 107 Brisnet Speed rating for the 1 1/2-length decision in the Jim Dandy.

Epicenter will take some beating as the favorite in his next start, the $1.25 million Travers (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 27, and the 1 1/4-mile race promises to feature his top divisional challengers. 

Belmont S. (G1) winner Mo Donegal is currently sidelined and won’t make it back to the races until later this year or 2023, and Jack Christopher probably will cut back to one-turn distances following his third as the favorite in the Haskell (G1). Nest, the three-year-old filly leader, is under consideration for the Travers, but we will focus exclusively upon males.

Cyberknife took a step forward in the July 23 Haskell at Monmouth Park, gamely edging Taiba by a head, and his progressing form will have appeal for Travers bettors. A maiden winner in late December, the chestnut colt’s first two stakes wins weren’t fast, and came at the expense of lesser competition, but Cyberknife is improving with experience for Brad Cox, earning his first triple-digit Speed rating (104) last time. By Gun Runner, Cyberknife is out of a mare by 2005 Travers winner Flower Alley.

Unlike Cyberknife, who captured the Matt Winn (G3) in mid-June following an unplaced showing in the Kentucky Derby, Taiba didn’t have the benefit of a prep race in the Haskell, making his first appearance since finishing 12th in the first leg of the Triple Crown. The Bob Baffert-trained son of Gun Runner performed commendably in his fourth career start, rallying wide to a short lead in the stretch before getting nailed by Cyberknife, and Taiba may have a high ceiling.

Connections have confirmed the Travers as a target for Taiba, who will need to run under the care of another trainer, presumably John Terranova at Saratoga. The Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner possesses good tactical speed, looks well-suited for longer distances, and Taiba rates as very intriguing.

Unraced since a third in the Kentucky Derby, Zandon also received a much-needed tightener in his last start, finishing second in the Jim Dandy, and the lightly-raced colt may continue to show more for Chad Brown. An athletic dark bay, Zandon packs a late punch, receiving a 114 Brisnet Late Pace rating for his romping win in the Blue Grass (G1) and a 114 in the Jim Dandy, and he’ll be a candidate to make a serious impact in the final furlongs of the Travers.

Charge It has been well-regarded since early this year, but the Todd Pletcher trainee finished a troubled second in the Florida Derby (G1) and exited an unplaced showing in the Kentucky Derby with an entrapped epiglottis. The eye-catching gray colt finally broke through in the July 2 Dwyer (G3), scorching the competition by a 23-length margin, and the performance came back fast (106 Speed figure). Built for longer distances, the son of Tapit seems to have enormous upside, and Charge It will be a candidate to put it all together in the Travers.