Epicenter pulls away to win Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Favorite Epicenter took a big step toward the Kentucky Derby, surging past leader Zozos and Pioneer of Medina entering the stretch and pulling away for a 2 1/2-length victory Saturday in the $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.

The Steve Asmussen-trained bay colt started the Grade 2 stakes race for 3-year-olds from the No. 6 post at even money and tucked in behind Zozos with Pioneer of Medina to his right as the horses ran within a half-length of each other around to the final turn.

Epicenter quickly charged forward and was clear down the stretch, following up his 2 3/4-length win in the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 19 for his second consecutive win with a second this year. The son of Not This Time-Silent Candy by Candy Ride has won four of six career starts and earned $1,010,639.

“The progression of the races for us to a mile and an eighth and now a mile and 3/16ths, and the opportunity to tuck him in today, we feel like we’re as prepared as we could possibly be mentally and physically, with a great chance at the Kentucky Derby,” the Hall of Fame trainer said.

Jockey Joel Rosario, who won last year’s Louisiana Derby aboard Hot Rod Charlie, guided Epicenter over 1 3/16 miles in a track-record 1:54.38 and paid $4, $2.80 and $2.40. Second in the Derby standings with 64 points coming, he’s now on top after earning 100 toward the 148th Run for the Roses on May 7 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

Zozos, trained by Brad Cox, returned $3.40 and $2.80 and earned 40 points. Pioneer of Medina, Todd Pletcher’s pupil who went off as the 5-2 second choice, was two lengths back and paid $5 to show.

Rosario’s Louisiana Derby triumph was the second graded stakes on a five-win day. He earlier rode filly Echo Zulu to victory by a nose over Hidden Connection in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks.

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