Photo: Epicenter as a yearling at Westwind Farms. Grace Clark photo
(Friday, Jan. 27, 2022) — Epicenter, born and raised at Westwind Farms in Bowling Green, Ky., was honored Thursday night as the Eclipse Award champion for North America’s outstanding 3-year-old colt of 2022.
The now-retired Epicenter was campaigned by Ron Winchell, the co-managing partner of The Mint Gaming Hall at Kentucky Downs in Franklin and The Mint Gaming Hall Bowling Green. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Epicenter won four of eight 2022 starts, with three seconds, while earning $2,810,000. His only race at 3 in which he didn’t finish at least second was his last start, with Epicenter pulled up after suffering a leg injury in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.
“You strive to have a horse like that, but you don’t ever expect it,” said Westwind president Mike Harris, who owns the farm with brothers Brent and Kevin. “It made it a fun year. I was quietly confident he’d be champion. I just didn’t think anybody had done more than he had.”
Brent Harris and his wife, Beth, attended the Eclipse Award ceremony at The Breakers Palm Beach, Fla., with Winchell including them in the entourage on the stage as he made his acceptance speech.
To Mike Harris’ knowledge, the only other champion thoroughbred born in Bowling Green was My Juliet, a 24-time winner who as a 4-year-old filly in 1976 was voted champion sprinter. She was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2019. My Juliet was bred by the Harris brothers’ grandfather, J.R. Bettersworth, and born and raised on the same land that launched Epicenter. Most Kentucky-bred champions are foaled around Central Kentucky and no farther west than Louisville.
The Eclipse Award voting for 3-year-old champion was expected to be a close race with Taiba, who finished a distant third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic won by unbeaten Horse of the Year Flightline. Taiba had finished the season with three Grade 1 victories, with Saratoga’s prestigious Travers Stakes the only Grade 1 for Epicenter. But the voters clearly regarded Epicenter as the superior horse who probably was the best when second in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Epicenter also won a trio of Grade 2 stakes in the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star in New Orleans and Saratoga’s Jim Dandy.
“Handicapping the 3-year-old Eclipse Award was a little bit like watching the Derby,” Winchell said in accepting the award, referencing the fact that Epicenter looked like the Kentucky Derby winner the last eighth-mile until passed in the final strides on the inside by 80-1 Rich Strike. “You couldn’t figure out who was going to win until the wire came up.”
Winchell paid special tribute to the Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup track team and jockey Joel Rosario for the quick action after Epicenter was injured. “Their efforts truly saved Epicenter and gave him a chance for a second career,” he said.
The voting turned out not to be close, with Epicenter garnering 155 first-place votes to 66 for Taiba. The Eclipse winners are determined in voting by members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, Daily Racing Form employees, Equibase field personnel and representatives from National Thoroughbred Racing Association-member tracks.
Winchell purchased Epicenter, a son of the hot young sire Not This Time, from Westwind Farms for $260,000 at Keeneland’s 2020 September yearling sale. The colt went on to capture six of 11 career starts, with three seconds, for earnings of $2,940,639. Epicenter is now a stallion at Ashford Stud in Woodford County, the American operation of the international Coolmore breeding and racing conglomerate.
The Harrises sold Epicenter’s dam, Silent Candy, to Avenue Bloodstock for $625,000 at Keeneland’s November sale with the mare carrying a full sibling to Epicenter. Winchell purchased Silent Candy’s yearling daughter sired by Tapiture for $170,000 at Keeneland’s 2022 yearling sale. Winchell also campaigned Tapiture, a winner of $1.5 million.
“I’ve got no regrets,” Mike Harris said of selling Epicenter’s mom. “She was too valuable for us to keep. The farm isn’t going to breed but about 10 mares this year. But we are going to breed a mare to Epicenter.”
The Harrises still have a current yearling out of Silent Candy. “We may end up keeping her and racing her ourselves,” Mike said. “We don’t have anything else from the family. But we’ve got time before we have to make up our mind whether to sell or not.”