SARATOGA SPRINGS — One of the toughest tasks for Erica Miller and I during the 2022 Saratoga Race Course meet has been sorting out which of trainer Chad Brown’s three Travers horses we’re looking at in the morning.
They’re all beautiful, dark bay colts, sort of hard to distinguish from each other visually, and it takes a little more careful inspection and research (“Is this Artorius?”, to the exercise rider) to get it right.
Erica, the Gazette’s wonderful photographer who joins me as the 1 and 1A entry for our Spa coverage, and I had no such difficulty positively identifying Epicenter.
Actually, the hardest part was just getting to the Oklahoma Training Track at 5:15 a.m. for his workouts.
We did that way back on July 9, the Saturday before the meet started, to get some preview shots of some of the stars out of trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn.
Again, three horses with bay coats.
But Jackie’s Warrior, who came out first at 5:30, has a white blaze that travels down his nose like a narrow creek and pools around his left nostril.
Epicenter, who came out at 5:45; has a little white reverse apostrophe on his forehead.
And Clairiere, the queen who gets to sleep in and doesn’t hit the track until 6 every day, has a small white silhouette of a bunch of balloons on a string on her forehead.
By now you may be wondering what in hell these observations have to do with my Travers pick, but it runs parallel to my handicapping of Saturday’s big race.
That is, I can’t figure out how to separate Brown’s three nice horses.
And I don’t have to, because Epicenter stands out and is my top pick, with superfecta fillers to follow below.
This is a solid field of eight horses, so when NYRA oddsmaker David Aragona made Epicenter the 7-5 favorite on the morning line, it gave some indication of how at least one really smart person is anticipating the behavior of the betting public.
I don’t claim any such insight and thought Epicenter might be a little higher than that, but I’m picking him with confidence based on his Jim Dandy performance, when he was much the best against a field that included Brown’s other two Travers horses, Early Voting and Zandon.
Of Brown’s trio, Artorius has the most untapped potential, and even though Early Voting won the Preakness, at a mile and three-sixteenths, and Zandon ran a big race in the Kentucky Derby, I believe Epicenter is the best equipped to handle the mile and a quarter of the Travers.
By all accounts, the Saratoga main track is playing faster than it did at the beginning of the meet, a development that could raise many of the boats in this harbor, while leaving others still up to their gunwales. One horse who I won’t be using is Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, who had a perfect set-up and trip in the Derby to catch Epicenter and Zandon late at odds of 80-1.
Finishing second got old in a hurry for Asmussen when Epicenter was runner-up to Early Voting in the Preakness, after Epicenter got stuck in a logjam a furlong out of the starting gate and had to bide his time in the back of the field.
He was hot on Early Voting’s heels when they hit the wire.
Fast-forward to the Jim Dandy on July 30, when trainers were grousing about how tiring the main track was.
Joel Rosario rode Epicenter like he was on the best horse in the race, rolling down the homestretch on the outside of his three rivals, including Early Voting, who was able to lead through a quarter-mile in 24.22 and a half in 48.28.
Shortly before Epicenter hit the wire, Rosario looked like a rider saving something for the next one.
So Epicenter gets my top spot.
There’s still a lot to like about Brown’s horses, and I’m going to put Artorius in the second spot, since he ran well in winning the Curlin at a mile and an eighth and still has room to improve off just three lifetime starts.
I’ll finish my superfecta with Cyberknife in third and Zandon fourth.