Unlikely Kentucky Derby Hero Rich Strike Aims For Belmont Stakes

Rich StrikeThe unexpected 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike will skip the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and run next in the Belmont Stakes on June 11, in pursuit of the third jewel in the Triple Crown. His owner Rick Dawson reported the news, making clear that it was a decision made in the best interests of ‘Ritchie’.

Dawson thanked the folks at Pimlico for the invitation to run but, having had discussions with trainer Eric Reed, two weeks was considered an inadequate recovery time after his exertions at Churchill Downs. They always planned to give him a fair amount of time between races and are understandably confident that the slightly longer distance of the Belmont should play to Rich Strike’s strengths.

The Louisiana Derby winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up, Epicenter, has reportedly come out of the race in good shape and will head to Pimlico. Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, his trainer Steve Asmussen saluted this son of Not This Time’s soundness. Epicenter’s recent breeze over half a mile at Churchill Downs suggested his confidence was justified and he is likely to start as the Preakness favorite.

Epicenter was the 4/1 favorite in the Run For The Roses but was found wanting when Rich Strike surged late in the stretch under Sonny Leon. This son of Keen Ice out of Gold Strike, a Smart Strike dam, provided the biggest upset in the Kentucky Derby for more than 100 years when appearing from nowhere and winning at Churchill Downs on May 7. He started as an 80/1 ‘no-hoper’ and beat Epicenter partnered by Joel Rosario by three quarters of a length. It was the same distance to the third placed Zandon (6/1) ridden by Flavien Prat for Chad Brown.

The 148th Kentucky Derby resulted in record-breaking support from bettors. Uncompromised by Covid restrictions, the 20 runners attracted a total of $179 million which included over $8 million from Japan. Horses trained there are often strongly supported by their fans when they race far from home. Koichi Shintari saddled Crown Pride (17/1) who was ridden prominently by Christophe-Patrice Lemaire and weakened to finish thirteenth.

Epicenter was ridden pretty close to the pace whilst Zandon raced mid pack. The next four horses to cross the wire, Simplification (35/1), Todd Pletcher’s Mo Donegal (10/1), Barber Road (60/1) and Brad Cox’s Tawny Port (80/1) had all been towards the back of the pack and finished in that order.

Summer Is Tomorrow, a 37/1 shot ridden by Mickael Barzalona, broke like a bullet from a gun out of gate four and led for most of the first mile. Crown Prince shadowed him in second, racing at his side during suicidal early fractions. Epicenter was mid pack while Rich Strike stayed at the rear, never racing more than two wide. The first half mile was covered in a scorching 45.36 seconds. Summer Is Tomorrow was headed half a mile from the wire and finished last, beaten 65 lengths. The winning time was 2 minutes 2.61 seconds.

To say the win was a dramatic upset is an understatement. No one expected Rich Strike to run in the race, his place in it became available only after another horse was withdrawn shortly before it. Rich Strike was last seen finishing a respectable third in a grade three at Turfway a month earlier at 26/1. His connections did not attract the attention the bettors. Why would anyone consider him when his trainer had only scored once at graded stakes level, and that was back in the 2009 Lexus Raven Run Stakes?

Not many people had heard of his Ohio-based jockey either, he had no big wins to his name but had the sense to stay well away from the action up front unlike Mike Smith on Taiba (6/1) and John Velazquez on Messier (7/1). They finished twelfth and fifteenth respectively, beaten about 20 lengths.

The race caller only mentioned Rich Strike once before the final stages of the race. He broke from an outside gate and was content to sit at the back. He had only two horses behind him and was over 20 lengths off the pace at the time.

The result predicted by the betting market looked likely to happen when Epicenter took the lead in the stretch as Summer Is Tomorrow and Crown Pride ran low on gas. Zandon stayed on and appeared at his outer flank. Simplification ran on from a wide position too. Rich Strike saved ground and gained the lead after taking the brave man’s route on the inside.

Rich Strike was not short of energy after crossing the wire. He was possibly approached too soon by the substantial pony rider set on helping Leon to pull him up. Rich Strike was unimpressed when he grabbed his rein and retaliated by trying to bite him and his pony. He succeeded in inflicting damage on both horse and rider and is probably the only colt to have been punched in the head after winning the Kentucky Derby. Pictures appeared on social media showing the damage Rich Strike inflicted on the pony’s neck.

Owned and bred by Calumet Farms, Rich Strike was acquired by Dawson after his win in a claimer for just $30,000 at Churchill Downs in September 2021. He had finished last in a maiden special weight on the dirt at Ellis Park in his previous run, there were no other bids. Dawson put in a similar bid for the fourth placed Twitchy whom he preferred but was unsuccessful. He was lucky not to buy him, Twitchy has not been seen on the racetrack for his new owners.

Dawson had hoped his colt would run well but never expected a second victory for him at Churchill Downs, especially at this level. Mine That Bird was the only other horse to win a claimer and go on to a Kentucky Derby win (2009). He was also the beneficiary of a pace collapse and was ridden way off the pace by the super-cool Calvin Borel.

The Preakness will be run without Rich Strike and gives Epicenter the opportunity to claim the second jewel of the Triple Crown. He is the clear favorite in the Preakness betting after his positive work out whilst Rich Strike is currently a double figure price in the Belmont betting but the extra distance may well play to his strengths.