04/22/2004 11:00PM

Epicentre rolls home in Elkhorn

Bill Straus/Keeneland
Epicentre ($4.40) wins the Grade 3 Elkhorn at Keeneland on Friday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Much was expected after Epicentre won his United States debut one year ago at Keeneland, but, according to trainer Bobby Frankel, he was never quite right the rest of the year. He was good enough to cross the wire first in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup, but in a decision apropos of his frustrating 2003 season, he was disqualified.

Epicentre returned to Keeneland for Friday's closing-day card for the $150,000 Elkhorn Stakes. After 12 months of ups and downs, Frankel thought Epicentre was ready for a top effort.

"He's never been this good," Frankel said before the race.

And he was good. Epicentre, given a patient, ground-saving ride by jockey Jerry Bailey, knifed between horses at the top of the stretch and kicked clear for a 4 3/4-length victory before 14,871.

The Grade 3 Elkhorn, run over 1 1/2 miles of rain-softened turf, served notice that Epicentre could be a major player in long-distance grass races this year. "We'll take him to New York and see what happens," Frankel said. "If he's doing as good the rest of the year as he is now, we'll have some fun."

Epicentre ($4.40) gave Bailey his third of four winners on the card. After breaking from post 2, Bailey and Epicentre remained inside for the first 10 furlongs of the race. Epicentre was caught briefly in traffic at the top of the stretch, but once he found room, he was gone.

"He's an easy horse to ride," Bailey said. "He will move when you want, and accelerate when you want. There was no pace in the race. It's better to have a horse that doesn't mind being in there."

Epicentre did not mind. He settled kindly as Grand led through fractions of 26.79 seconds, 51.85 seconds, 1:17.46, and 1:42.18 for the first mile. Kim Loves Bucky, who had won the Elkhorn the two previous years, advanced to take the lead turning for home, but Epicentre rushed past him a furlong out.

Rochester rallied late for second, finishing a neck in front of another deep closer, Art Variety. Kim Loves Bucky was fourth.

Epicentre completed 1 1/2 miles on a course rated good in 2:31.96. Epicentre, a 5-year-old son of Kris S., has now won five times in 15 starts.

* Keeneland broke its record for daily average attendance during its spring meeting, which ended Friday. The average of 15,522 was well above the previous best, 14,649, set at the spring 2001 meet.