'It Kind Of Put Us On The Map': Harris Family Enjoying Ride With Classic Contender Epicenter - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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‘It Kind Of Put Us On The Map’: Harris Family Enjoying Ride With Classic Contender Epicenter

Epicenter gallops at Keeneland on Nov. 2, 2022

Winchell Thoroughbreds' Epicenter — born and raised in Bowling Green, Ky. — will attempt to cement his status as North America's best 3-year-old and stake a claim as Horse of the Year in Saturday's $6 million Longines Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course.

Epicenter is the 5-1 second choice in the morning line behind unbeaten sensation Flightline, who at 3-5- odds is a prohibitive favorite in the field of eight contesting the 1 1/4-mile Classic. A victory would all but secure Horse of the Year honors for Epicenter. A second or third behind older horses likely would hand him the 3-year-old championship.

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen isn't making any predictions except to say, “We expect a huge performance from him.”

Epicenter is the best horse to come out of western or south-central Kentucky in decades, being born and raised on Harris family's Westwind Farms in Bowling Green, Ky. The regional tie goes farther as he's owned by Ron Winchell, the co-managing partner in Kentucky Downs in Franklin and the three The Mint Gaming Hall properties in Franklin, Bowling Green and now also Williamsburg.

Winchell purchased Epicenter as a yearling for $260,000 from Westwind, the biggest price for which the farm has sold a horse. Brothers Mike, Brent and Kevin Harris, along with Mike's sons Tyler and Justin do all the work at the family's farm.

“It's been great,” Mike Harris said. “You always hope for it, but you don't really expect it. For it to happen like it has, it's been a great experience for our whole family. We're looking forward to seeing what he can do on Saturday.”

The Harrises could have a huge three-day run. On Monday, Epicenter's mom, Silent Candy, will be offered for sale on the first day of Keeneland's world famous November breeding stock auction. Silent Candy is carrying a foal sired by Taylor Made's stallion Not This Time, also the sire of Epicenter. Harris dropped the broodmare off at Taylor Made's sales consignment at Keeneland on Thursday. Taylor Made also stands Not This Time at the Taylor family's Nicholasville farm.

Why are they selling Silent Candy?

“She's just too valuable for us to have down there,” Harris said by phone as he drove back to Bowling Green. “She needs to be bred to a lot better sires than we can afford to breed her to.”

Silent Candy, dam of Epicenter, at Keeneland Thursday. She'll be sold Monday at the November auction

Frank Taylor, Taylor Made's vice president of sales, said of Silent Candy: “I think it will double or triple her value if Epicenter wins the Classic. So it's a big thing. It's going to be tough to beat Flightline, but if there's a horse in there that can do it, I think it's him… This mare, if she has a good foal, it could bring $1 million or more.

“The Harrises are just great people and they raise a good horse. They're hard-working people, raise horses right – and obviously they've raised a great one in Epicenter.”

Epicenter has four wins and three seconds in seven starts this year, losing the Fair Grounds' Lecomte (G3) by a head to kickoff his 3-year-old season before dominating in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) in New Orleans. The 4-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, Epicenter looked like the winner until passed late by 80-1 Rich Strike. In the Preakness Stakes, he was well off a moderate pace, rallying late but coming up short to Early Voting. After taking Saratoga's Grade 2 Jim Dandy, Epicenter crushed his opponents to take the Grade 1 Travers Stakes, avenging his Derby and Preakness defeats.

“His Jim Dandy and Travers were victories that not only do I think he deserved, but he obviously had physically moved forward,” said Asmussen, who won the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic with the 3-year-old Curlin and the 2017 Classic with the 4-year-old Gun Runner, both of whom were voted Horse of the Year. “He was a better horse in those two races, and it will take even a better effort for him in this year's Classic.”

Epicenter has to beat more than Flightline, however. The field also features 2021 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile champion Life Is Good, who is 9 for 11 and a four-time Grade 1 winner. Hot Rod Charlie is always a factor and comes into the Classic off a head victory over Rich Strike, who will be flying late and would benefit if Flightline and Life Is Good hooked up in a speed duel to the detriment of both. Olympiad won the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup in his last start for his eighth win in 12 starts.

No one is talking about Happy Saver, but the 5-year-old horse won his first five career starts, including the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). That is his last stakes victory in his 12-race career, but he had five straight seconds in major races for older horses before finishing fourth in the Lukas Classic.

Besides Rich Strike and Epicenter, Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba (12th) and Cyberknife (18th) also ran in the Kentucky Derby. Cyberknife beat Taiba by a head in New Jersey's Grade 1 Haskell with Taiba turning the tables in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.

“They pretty much already inaugurated Flightline as the winner,” Harris said with a laugh. “But I've seen that (an upset) happen lots of times. He does look like a super horse, but I don't think we've seen Epicenter's best by a long shot. His last two races, he won so easily. If Flightline is the freak they say he is, nobody may get close to him again. But it's horse racing — about anything can happen.”

Westwind has admirable production for a small operation. Harris said Westwind has raised 12 stakes winners in the last nine years, seven being graded.

“And four of them were Grade 1 winners,” he said. “Even having said that, Epicenter, he's the best horse we've ever raised, no question. No matter what else he does.

“People ask me about him all the time. A lot of people in Bowling Green knew we raised horses. But I think most of them didn't know they were Thoroughbreds or racehorses. It kind of put us on the map.”

Harris said he doesn't want to even think about what it would be like for Epicenter to win America's richest horse race.

“You think about it, and then you're disappointed if it doesn't happen,” he said. “I'm not going to be disappointed in him. He's had a great year and made the whole year fun for us.”

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