Epicenter Draws Eight as 6-5 Preakness Favorite; Secret Oath Gets 4-Hole


GI Kentucky Derby favorite and runner-up Epicenter (Not This Time) drew post eight in a nine-horse renewal of the GI Preakness S. at Monday's pill pull for the second leg of the Triple Crown, while GI Longines Kentucky Oaks victress Secret Oath (Arrogate) got the four post for trainer D. Wayne Lukas as she attempts to become the second filly to win the Preakness in the last three years and give Lukas a seventh Preakness victory. The chestnut was installed as the 9-2 third choice on the morning line behind Epicenter and expected speed Early Voting (Gun Runner), who drew smack in the middle of the field in the five post for trainer Chad Brown. The 1 3/16-mile classic will carry a purse of $1.65 million, up from the expected $1.5 million due to the late supplement of Fern Circle Stables, Back Racing and Magdalena Racing's Creative Minister (Creative Cause).

“I thought it was ideal,” said Epicenter's trainer Steve Asmussen of his colt's draw. It's a nine-horse field, plenty of run-up to the first turn. Several fresh horses and us coming back in two weeks, I think it's absolutely ideal. You could say we're half as nervous as the draw for the Derby, when you go from 20 runners to nine. I think that makes it that much more beneficial to everybody as far as post-position draw goes. With that being said, it's exciting to run against Early Voting, me being a huge fan of Gun Runner [who he trained]. So I'm very excited to see him, but obviously anxious for Epicenter's opportunity in the Preakness.”

Prior to running second in the Derby behind shocking winner Rich Strike (Keen Ice), whose connections decided to pass on the Preakness and an attempt at the Triple Crown, Epicenter impressively annexed the GII Risen Star S. and GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Bettors made him a clear 41-10 favorite in the Run for the Roses, where he led until deep stretch before getting overtaken late to his inside.

Secret Oath was a convincing winner of one of the strongest renewals of the Oaks in recent memory, rallying wide to score a two-length victory. Trying to follow in the footsteps of filly Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil), who beat back Derby winner and eventual Horse of the Year Authentic (Into Mischief) in the COVID-delayed 2020 Preakness, Secret Oath has already taken on males once, running third with a troubled trip in the GI Arkansas Derby Apr. 9 at Oaklawn.

Of post four, Secret Oath co-owner Rob Mitchell commented, “I think it's fine. I mean, I'm happier with that than I was with the post position [#1] for the Oaks.”

Klaravich Stables' Early Voting, an impressive victor of the GIII Withers S. and a narrow runner-up in the GII Wood Memorial S., had enough points to qualify for the Derby, but was pointed for the Preakness instead by Brown, who won the Preakness in 2017 with Cloud Computing (Maclean's Music), the four-time Eclipse champion trainer's lone Classic victory to date.

“Terrific,” Brown said of drawing stall five. “I wanted to be somewhere in the middle, so that will work. I'm happy with the draw.”

Only three horses from the 20-horse Derby will return to contest the Preakness in Epicenter, fourth-place finisher Simplification (Not This Time) and 14th-place finisher Happy Jack (Oxbow). Simplification, victor of the GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S. this winter, drew the rail Monday as the 6-1 fourth choice.

“I saw speed to the outside. It doesn't change our strategy,” said trainer Antonio Sano. “At first, I thought no good, but Johnny V [John Velazquez] is so smart. He will make the decision if he has to go outside.”

The entire field, from the rail out with jockey assignments: #1 Simplification (Velazquez), #2 Creative Minister (Brian Hernandez, Jr. 10-1), #3 Fenwick (Curlin, Florent Geroux, 50-1), #4 Secret Oath (Luis Saez), #5 Early Voting (Jose Ortiz), #6 Happy Jack (Tyler Gaffalione, 30-1), #7 Armagnac (Quality Road, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 12-1), #8 Epicenter (Joel Rosario), #9 Skippylongstocking (Exaggerator, Junior Alvarado, 20-1).

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