Photo: Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire
Red TR Racing’s Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike will now be pointed to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 27 at Saratoga after finishing sixth of eight in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.
The chestnut son of Keen Ice displayed rail-skimming tactics in his stunning 80-1 upset victory in the “Run for the Roses,” but tried something new when angling outside of foes from post 4 in the Belmont.
Jockey Sonny Leon, who expertly piloted Rich Strike to his Derby win, struggled throughout the first mile of the 1 1/2-mile test to bring Rich Strike’s attention to the race rather than trying to make the rail. Rich Strike trailed the field in eighth before swinging wide in the turn and only managing to put away two rivals in the “Test of the Champion.”
Trainer Eric Reed said Rich Strike likely would have run better with an inside trip.
“He came back great. It was my fault. I had a feeling the race would shape up like it did, and I told Sonny that all we had to do was settle eight lengths back down the backstretch and we’d win,” said Reed. “We knew that they would be waiting on us to come on the inside and I said, ‘Good, because we’re not going on the inside. We’re not going to get stopped in an eight-horse field.’ But he won’t run on the outside of horses. He has no interest and all he did was turn his head and try to fight to the rail and not concentrating on anything but trying to get to the rail and doing what he does. I didn’t know that. It didn’t cost us the win, but I do think it cost us a placing.
“I should have had a bit of an indication, because when we breeze him, Gabriel (Lagunes) breezed him about four or five lengths off the rail because he doesn’t go as hard that way,” Reed continued. “When he’s on the rail he wants to go too fast. I thought with horses around him, he’d be waiting to go, but he lost interest.”
Rich Strike will now set his sights on a cutback to the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles in the, a distance that Reed said suits him perfectly.
“We were going there win, lose or draw. We’re going to give him a little rest and that’s a mile and a quarter and there’ll be plenty of speed,” said Reed. “The track will play to his liking and we’ll run another bang-up race. I have no doubt about that. We’ll give him three or four easy weeks and then start training him up to the Travers. He’ll train in Kentucky and train (at Saratoga) a little.”
While Rich Strike’s finish in the Belmont was not what his team was hoping for, Reed said he couldn’t be happier to continue to train a Kentucky Derby winner.
“We didn’t think we could win coming from last, but this was a chance to get another good finish and that’s why we targeted it. He’s still the Derby winner and he’ll win plenty of races,” said Reed. “It’s not his only race and I would feel a lot worse if he had tried really hard and got dead tired and couldn’t win. He drank a half a bucket of water and wasn’t tired. He wasn’t trying to win, he was trying to get to the rail.”
Reed expressed his gratitude to the fans and to Belmont Park for their accommodations during Rich Strike’s stay in New York.
“Oh God, I got hundreds and hundreds of messages. I’ll keep everybody informed when he goes back to the track,” Reed said. “He’s not going anywhere and he’ll get his say again. We had guys as we were walking back come out of the barns and say, ‘Congratulations, you’ve still got the good horse, you’ll get them next time.’ I was real surprised that dozens of people came out and were so nice to us. You’ve got to lose better than you win – that’s my motto. As long as the horse is healthy, I’m happy.”
“Everybody has treated me so good from the day I got here and Juan Dominguez (NYRA’s Senior Director of Safety and Racing Operations) and Frank (Gabriel Jr. NYRA’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations) stood here at 1 in the morning to watch him go to the stall, the press giving us our space and always being so kind,” Reed added. “Who wouldn’t like that?”