Top Derby, Oaks Hopefuls Epicenter, Echo Zulu Breeze; Morello To Bypass Derby - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Top Derby, Oaks Hopefuls Epicenter, Echo Zulu Breeze; Morello To Bypass Derby

Epicenter, outside, with workmate Gun It, breezes at Churchill Downs

With less than two weeks remaining until the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) and $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), respective top contenders Epicenter (six furlongs, 1:12.20) and Echo Zulu (six furlongs, 1:11.80) had their most serious workouts prior to the first weekend in May.

Along with Derby contender Epicenter, Teruya Yoshida's Japan-bred UAE Derby (G2) winner Crown Pride had another tune-up for the “Run for the Roses” and breezed a half-mile in :49.20.

L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds' undefeated filly Echo Zulu was the first of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen's duo to work.

The daughter of Gun Runner breezed with exercise rider Wilson Fabian in the saddle. The duo broke to the inside of regular workmate King Ottoman, who was ridden by former jockey Eddie Martin Jr. Echo Zulu worked through eighth-mile fractions of :12.20, :23.80, :35.60, and :47.40. She galloped out seven furlongs in 1:25.20, according to Churchill Downs clocker John Nichols.

In Asmussen's next set of horses, Epicenter, with Fabian in the irons, worked to the outside of Gun It and Martin through splits of :13, :24.40, :35.80, and :47.20. Epicenter galloped out seven furlongs in 1:26.20 and was up one-mile in 1:41.

“We're so happy the weather has cooperated on our scheduled work days. The racetrack is in great shape this morning,” Asmussen said after he arrived in Louisville following an eight-hour overnight drive from Oaklawn Park.

“These were the most significant works for us. We're following a pattern that we're very comfortable with. I love the rhythm these horses are in. Both of these horses have kept their same workmates from New Orleans this winter. I'm unbelievably appreciative of the job Wilson and Eddie have done helping get them to this point.

“They've both started out as tremendous prospects and individuals. We're aiming with incremental improvement to not take too big of a leap forward. So everything is a building block to success. Since they have arrived here at Churchill that trend has continued. I was so excited with Echo Zulu's first work here.”

Epicenter and Echo Zulu won the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), respectively, in late March.

Asmussen, who is North America's all-time leading trainer in wins, has made 23 starts in the Kentucky Derby but has failed to win the 1 ¼-mile event. His trainees have finished second and third, twice each, in the Kentucky Derby. His last starter to hit the board was Lookin At Lee, who finished second in 2017. Asmussen also finished third in 2016 with Gun Runner, second in 2011 with Nehro, and third in 2007 with Curlin.

“I literally know what it feels like to win the Derby,” Asmussen said of Nehro. “I didn't see Animal Kingdom coming down the center of the track that day. With Lookin At Lee, when Corey (Lanerie) cut the corner with him and the acceleration he showed going by tired horses, it just looked like he was going fast enough to win the Derby. Always Dreaming had enough to hold him off. The visuals of those moments were goosebump exciting. I've got 23 different feelings on the Derby but very vividly remember Nehro and Lookin At Lee.

“For Curlin's Derby, I never thought that he'd get beat. The walkover for his Derby felt like it took three strides but the walk back felt like it was the Sahara Desert. He went to the Test Barn after the race with Zanjero (who finished 12th) and Zanejro was blowing hard. Curlin came out of the test barn and was his strong, usual self. He had enough ability but wasn't meant to be.”

Epicenter and Echo Zulu are likely to head back to the track Tuesday.

At 7:30 a.m., Crown Pride worked a half-mile from the three-furlong pole through consistent fractions of :12.40, :24.80, and :37.20. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.40.

Trainer Koichi Shintani is scheduled to arrive in Louisville on May 1 and will be in attendance at the post position draw Monday, May 2.

In other Derby-related news, Asmussen removed Gotham (G3) winner Morello from Derby consideration because the colt has a foot issue. The colt was 15th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 50 points. With his defection, Pioneer of Medina moves into the 20th spot, with 25 points.

Also, Jeff Drown's Blue Grass (G1) winner Zandon arrived at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning. He is stabled with several other stablemates in Barn 25.

Curlin Florida Derby (G1) winner White Abarrio is slated to have his final training in Florida through Sunday, May 1 and arrive in Saffie Joseph's Barn 10 by Monday, May 2. Simplification, who finished third to White Abarrio in the Florida Derby, is scheduled to arrive one day prior for trainer Antonio Sano.

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