BALTIMORE (AP) — Epicenter was the horse closing strong at the end this time, making up ground on the leader in the final stage of a Triple Crown race.
It wasn't enough. The favorite finished second — again.
Epicenter became the first horse since Bodemeister in 2012 to be the runner-up in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Each loss carried its own type of frustration. In the Derby, Epicenter ran a big race but was passed by 80-1 longshot Rich Strike at the end. On Saturday, Early Voting was the horse to catch, and Epicenter couldn't quite do it.
“Almost doesn’t feel very good anymore," said Steven Asmussen, Epicenter's trainer.
Rich Strike wasn't in the Preakness after his owner said the horse needed rest. That put even more of the attention on Epicenter at Pimlico, along with the filly Secret Oath, the Kentucky Oaks champ.
A 6-5 favorite, Epicenter was still in seventh place at the 3/4-mile mark, but he passed everyone in front of him besides the winner. Early Voting swerved over in front of Epicenter at the end, but the distance between them was wide enough that there was little controversy.
Early Voting won by 1 1/4 lengths.
“The beginning kind of hurt us a little bit,” Epicenter jockey Joel Rosario said. “He run his race, even with all the traffic we got. He was still coming at the end.”
It was the slow start — and the traffic that came with it — that left the colt with too much ground to make up. And the opening fraction of 24.32 seconds wasn't fast enough to tire to leaders like the quick early pace in the Derby.
“Disappointed,” said Asmussen, who won the Preakness in 2007 with Curlin and 2009 with Rachel Alexandra. “He just had too much to overcome."
By contrast, Early Voting was near the lead the whole way.
“I was thrilled with it. We were prepared to go to the lead, especially the way the track was playing all day,” said Chad Brown, Early Voting's trainer. “It would have been foolish not to plan on going to the lead.”
Epicenter joins some distinguished horses like Easy Goer and Alydar who finished second in both the Derby and Preakness. Sometimes, even the best horses leave their owners and trainers wondering what went wrong.
“I had nowhere to go. You just have to stay there and hopefully at some point it opens up,” Rosario said. “It was really tight the whole way.”
Epicenter has finished first or second in seven consecutive races.
Secret Oath was in the back of the pack with Epicenter early on and ended up fourth, her lowest finish since November.
“She broke the way she was supposed to, but everyone was all over the place,” jockey Luis Saez said. “At the half-mile pole, she made her move, but when we came to the top of the stretch, the winner just kept going.”
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