Ron Winchell has sat and pondered the cosmic power of the universe.
He’s thought about all the factors that had to conspire for Rich Strike, a historic 80-1 long shot, to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby this month, and in the process deny Epicenter — owned by Winchell and trained by Steve Asmussen — a long-sought Derby win.
Ethereal Road scratching from the race to allow Rich Strike to enter the field.
The breakneck pace set by Summer Is Tomorrow, which whittled the 20-horse field down to a select few.
Lastly, and most painfully, the titanic charge near the rail by Rich Strike, to pass favorites Epicenter and Zandon in the stretch to complete the most improbable of Derby results.
No, Winchell isn’t over it yet.
On Thursday afternoon, he told reporters via video conference he might never get over it.
“Obviously, that was a tough beat … (Epicenter) showed up, he was running and of course at the end it was heartbreaking to get run down at the wire,” Winchell said. “I kind of saw (Rich Strike) sneaking up on the rail, and I’ve watched a billion races. You just have that sinking feeling. … I had to sit for five minutes and absorb it afterward.”
While the pain from the Derby defeat may linger for Winchell, Asmussen and those connected to Epicenter — born in Bowling Green — the horse will have a chance for some level of redemption come Saturday night in Baltimore with the 147th running of the Preakness Stakes.
Epicenter, the post-time favorite for the Kentucky Derby, was installed as the morning-line favorite for the Preakness Stakes this week.
He’s one of the headliners in the nine-horse field, and one of only three horses (along with Simplification and Happy Jack) set to run the Preakness after also running the Kentucky Derby.
So what have the past two weeks been like for Winchell in the aftermath of such an emotional Derby defeat?
“Just taking awhile to kind of absorb it. … It’s hard to get over (that) all those things happened to beat the favorite,” Winchell said.
Epicenter will depart from post position No. 8 in Saturday’s race, with only 20-1 shot Skippylongstocking to his outside.
It’s worth remembering that Rich Strike — who won’t race the Preakness because of the short two-week turnaround — departed from the furthest outside post position (No. 20) on the way to his Derby win.
Despite the much smaller field compared to the Kentucky Derby, there’s still quality in the Preakness field, which features Simplification (fourth in the Derby), Secret Oath (the filly who won the Kentucky Oaks) and Early Voting (second in the Wood Memorial and with Baltimore-connected owners) atop the betting odds along with Epicenter.
But the build-up to the Preakness hasn’t meant changes for Winchell, Asmussen and jockey Joel Rosario.
“He’s a very versatile horse, we anticipate we’ll sit off the pace,” Winchell said. “If the pace doesn’t unfold he could find himself on the lead. I don’t anticipate that happening, but that’s what’s nice about bringing a versatile horse to any big race. You have options and he’s got options.”
While it may not carry the prestige of the Kentucky Derby, especially in a year without the Triple Crown on the line, capturing one of horse racing’s “big three” titles is something that’s proved tricky for Winchell as an owner.
This was evident in last year’s Preakness Stakes, when Midnight Bourbon (another Winchell-owned, Asmussen-trained horse) finished second in the race after being run down in the stretch by Rombauer.
“The confidence level is great,” Winchell said of Epicenter entering the Preakness. “But with any big race you just hope you show up and run. So I think if he shows up and runs then we’re in a good position.”
Winchell concerned about racing’s political future
A sizable political defeat was dealt to the gaming and horse racing industry Tuesday night when Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, lost a primary election in House District 69.
Koenig, who was an eight-term incumbent, was defeated by challenger Steven Doan, who was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie and state Rep. Savannah Maddox.
Koenig is the chairman of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee and is also the lead proponent of a bill to legalize, regulate and tax sports gaming in the state.
Winchell, who is involved in gaming bars/restaurants and purchased Kentucky Downs in Franklin in November 2018, said losing the presence of Koenig in Frankfort is a “devastating loss.”
“When you look at Kentucky politics, horse racing should be one of the number one things. It’s an important industry for the state,” Winchell said. “A lot of times it doesn’t go that way, so when you lose a guy like Adam Koenig, it hurts racing overall. That’s something that’s very concerning moving forward. I think we lack in Kentucky some of the support for racing that I believe it should have. It’s a very important industry but they don’t usually treat it like that.”
When: 7:01 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.
Purse: $1.5 million
Distance: 1 3/16 miles
For: 3-year-old Thoroughbreds
The field, with odds:
1. Simplification (6-1)
2. Creative Minister (10-1)
3. Fenwick (50-1)
4. Secret Oath (9-2)
5. Early Voting (7-2)
6. Happy Jack (30-1)
7. Armagnac (12-1)
8. Epicenter (6-5)
9. Skippylongstocking (20-1)