Unveiling the Reigning Champion: Evaluating the Leading 3-Year-Old of the Present Era

Epicenter Runs to Victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes

The world of horse racing experienced another thrilling moment on Saturday as Epicenter, the 6/5 favorite, emerged victorious in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. In a race that showcased the shifting and quaking nature of the 3-year-old division, Epicenter displayed a new dimension as a closer, securing a 1 ½ length win over Zandon, Tawny Port, and Early Voting. With this triumph, Epicenter not only surpassed the $2 million mark in career earnings but also established himself as the horse to beat in the 3-year-old class—at least for now.

A Division in Constant Flux

The 3-year-old division in horse racing is notoriously known for its ever-changing landscape. Just like Epicenter, other horses have had their moments of glory before giving way to new contenders. This fluidity stems from two primary factors: the impressive depth exhibited by this year’s crop of sophomores and the scarcity of head-to-head matchups among the top 3-year-olds in races apart from the infamous Kentucky Derby. Trainers have taken a meticulous approach to race selection, carefully picking their spots and avoiding direct confrontations. The Preakness and Belmont Stakes have seen even more cherry-picking than usual.

The Travers Stakes: A Decisive Race

However, all that is set to change on August 27th, as the Grade 1 Travers Stakes looms on the horizon. Trainers such as Chad Brown, Steve Asmussen, Brad Cox, and Todd Pletcher have circled this race in red ink on their calendars. The victor of the Travers Stakes will emerge as the standout 3-year-old, heading into the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic as the horse to beat.

The Quest for Grade 1 Glory

Amidst the intense competition and the shifting dynamics lies Epicenter, a colt with an impressive record of 5 wins in 9 races and career earnings exceeding $2.2 million. What sets him apart is his consistency, having only missed the board once in his nine starts. While he boasts victories in graded stakes and black-type races, he still lacks a Grade 1 victory—the ultimate goal for any aspiring great horse. Trainer Steve Asmussen recognizes this glaring gap in Epicenter’s resume and the significance of the Travers Stakes.

Asmussen’s Determination

Asmussen acknowledges the challenges Epicenter has overcome and emphasizes the importance of bringing him back to the winner’s circle. With the knowledge that the Travers Stakes lies ahead, Asmussen wants Epicenter to be in peak condition for this crucial race and make his mark in Saratoga, a track where he has never raced before.

Defying Expectations in the Jim Dandy Stakes

Despite the challenges faced by Epicenter, the Jim Dandy Stakes demonstrated that he will need to adapt to new circumstances in the upcoming Travers Stakes. In the Jim Dandy, he found himself in last place during the backstretch, deviating from his preferred running style as a pace-presser. However, the small field allowed jockey Joel Rosario to make adjustments, rallying Epicenter for a powerful closing kick in the final furlong.

Plot Twist: A Strange Race Dynamic

The race itself defied conventional wisdom, as the pace-presser Epicenter found himself at the back of the pack, while the closer Zandon unexpectedly positioned himself near the lead. Early Voting, typically the front-runner, held his ground early on but ultimately succumbed to the strong stretch runs of Epicenter, Zandon, and Tawny Port, finishing third. The nuances of the Jim Dandy Stakes created an intriguing twist in the race dynamic, leaving trainers like Chad Brown perplexed and seeking answers.

Assessing the Unusual Outcome

Brown admits that the race did not unfold as expected. He reflects on the unusual circumstances, recognizing that the track conditions at Saratoga played a role. Early Voting, typically a strong contender, struggled to handle the track’s challenging surface, leaving Brown to analyze the horse’s performance and make adjustments for future races.

The Road Ahead

With the Travers Stakes on the horizon, there is ample time for trainers to learn from the Jim Dandy results and adjust their strategies accordingly. Chad Brown hopes to bring Zandon back in a larger field, giving the horse a better chance to showcase his true potential. Prat, Zandon’s jockey, echoes these sentiments, acknowledging that the race’s dynamics dictated his decisions on the track.

The Quest for Supremacy Continues

As we look ahead to the Travers Stakes, the race for supremacy in the 3-year-old division intensifies. It remains to be seen if Epicenter will maintain his status as the top contender. With a month left for trainers to fine-tune their horses’ performances, Steve Asmussen aims to preserve his colt’s reputation as the best 3-year-old in the country. However, in this ever-evolving landscape, the asterisk beside Epicenter’s name, bearing the words “for now,” serves as a reminder that the quest for greatness is far from over.


The Jim Dandy Stakes served as a mesmerizing display of the unpredictability and fierce competition within the 3-year-old division. With Epicenter emerging as the victor, the race to claim the top spot in this talented class becomes even more compelling. As we eagerly anticipate the upcoming Travers Stakes, the significance of a Grade 1 victory and the opportunity to solidify one’s place in racing history looms large. The complexity of this division keeps us captivated, and only time will reveal which horse will ultimately prevail.


1. Will Epicenter’s victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes secure him the title of the best 3-year-old?

While Epicenter’s impressive performance in the Jim Dandy Stakes positions him as a frontrunner, the competition in the 3-year-old division remains fierce. The upcoming Travers Stakes will be a definitive race that can shape the hierarchy in this talented group.

2. How does the scarcity of head-to-head matchups impact the 3-year-old division?

The limited number of direct confrontations among top 3-year-olds, other than the Kentucky Derby, contributes to the constant flux within the division. Trainers strategically choose races for their horses, carefully avoiding head-to-head battles and defining their contenders’ racing paths.

3. What is the significance of a Grade 1 victory?

A Grade 1 victory is the ultimate achievement in horse racing, indicating the highest level of excellence. It solidifies a horse’s place in racing history and greatly enhances its value as a stallion or broodmare prospect.

4. How do trainers adapt their strategies for different race outcomes?

Trainers closely analyze race results and track conditions to understand how their horses performed and identify areas for improvement. They assess the performance of their own horses as well as their competitors’, making adjustments accordingly.

5. Who are the trainers to watch in the upcoming Travers Stakes?

Trainers Chad Brown, Steve Asmussen, Brad Cox, and Todd Pletcher are among the top names to watch in the Travers Stakes. All of them possess talented horses and have demonstrated their prowess in conditioning and preparing contenders for major races.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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