With less than four weeks remaining until the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s duo of top contenders Epicenter and Echo Zulu returned to the work tab April 10 at Churchill Downs for the first time since their respective victories two weeks ago in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter, who holds the top position on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, worked five furlongs in 1:01 Sunday at 5:50 am ET while his stablemate, L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds’ prior champion filly Echo Zulu breezed 20 minutes to Epicenter and completed five furlongs at 1:00 4/5.
Epicenter, with exercise rider Wilson Fabian up, worked outside of fellow 3-year-old Guntown through opening eight-mile fractions of :13 2/5, :25 2/5, and :37. The duo stayed together for most of the breeze and completed six furlongs in a comfortable 1:14 3/5 and were up seven furlongs in 1:29 2/5.
“He’s a wonderful individual,” Asmussen said following Epicenter’s 2 1/2-length win in the $1 million Louisiana Derby. “He’s another product of Winchell and Dr. (Dave) Lambert’s selection process. He had his early schooling at mom and dad’s (Asmussen Horse Center) in Laredo, Texas. He came in highly recommended and has always been beautifully impressive. He’s done well in his development and continues to improve as the races get longer.”
Bettors tabbed Epicenter as the 9-2 favorite in Pool 5 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closed Saturday prior to the runnings of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1), $750,000 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1), and $750,000 Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2). He will enter the Kentucky Derby with four wins from six starts and boasts purse earnings of $1,010,639.
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Echo Zulu, with Fabian in the saddle, worked inside of debut maiden special weight winner Belle Rebelle through opening fractions of :13, :24 2/5. and :36. The duo galloped out to six furlongs in 1:14 2/5.
Unbeaten Echo Zulu was the champion 2-year-old filly in 2021 following her emphatic 5 1/4-length score in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). Making her 3-year-old debut in the Fair Grounds Oaks where she dug in during the late stages of the 1 1/16-mile race to hold off Hidden Connection by a scant nose.
“She got a little tired in the stretch but she got the job done,” jockey Joel Rosario said. “She showed how much of an amazing horse she is. She dug in and didn’t want to get beat.”
“She was such a brilliant filly last year,” Asmussen said. “She really has a straight-forward attitude. She got a break, and to compete in the Fair Grounds Oaks as a prep and to do what she did, when in the past multiple great fillies have won this race, she can now add her name to that list. We’re very proud of that.”
Echo Zulu is a perfect 5-for-5 and is one of several fillies that could vie for favoritism in the Kentucky Oaks.