Horse Race

Rich Strike Could Add to Fairy Tale in Clark

Another chapter could be written in the Rich Strike  fairy tale come Nov. 25.

The spunky red colt who captured the hearts of America with his shocking victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) returns to Churchill Downs to close the curtain on his 3-year-old campaign in the $750,000 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare (G1).

Facing adversity is nothing new to Team Rich Strike, and the son of Keen Ice   will have one hurdle to overcome in the final grade 1 of the Kentucky racing season. In all 12 of his starts, he’s had to race back in three weeks only once. That quick turnaround happened after that fateful day in September 2021, when Rich Strike was claimed by owner Rick Dawson of RED TR-Racing and trainer Eric Reed after a 17 1/2- length romp in a $30,000 maiden claimer under the Twin Spires. Rich Strike ran back three weeks later in an allowance race at Keeneland, closing fast to finish third. From there, Reed has ensured that his prized pupil has had at least one month between starts, a strategy he felt led to the colt’s success in the Derby.

“I couldn’t ask him to train any better now but we’re still entering unknown territory, how he’ll respond running back in three weeks,” Reed said.

Rich Strike has undergone only lighter training leading into the Clark, with Reed opting to not to breeze him heading into Friday’s race. The colt was compromised during the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) when Epicenter  was suddenly pulled up down the backstretch. Reed thinks he deserves one last shot to prove his mettle before capping the year, and perhaps even sway Eclipse Award voters in his favor with another grade 1 win.

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“(The incident with Epicenter) kind of took him out of contest for the race, so Sonny (Leon) could only let him ease his way through the traffic around the final three-eighths,” Reed said. “Sonny felt the horse didn’t get to run the whole way. So, I decided to give him a week of training after the race to see how he felt. It turns out he was really feeling good. We drew blood and that was still as good as it was going into the Breeders’ Cup, so I told Rick (Dawson), ‘Let’s give it one more week and if we like where we’re at, we’ll enter him.’ “

A second grade 1 triumph would certainly thrust Rich Strike into the Eclipse Award conversation. The likely favorite to take home champion 3-year-old honors, Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) hero Epicenter, suffered a career-ending injury in the Classic. Other 3-year-olds in the championship picture include Taiba  and Cyberknife  , who have two grade 1 wins each. Both colts were soundly beaten by Rich Strike in the Derby.

After his 80-1 Derby shocker, Rich Strike finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), fourth in the Travers Stakes (G1), and was a gallant second, beaten mere inches by top older horse Hot Rod Charlie , in a controversial running of the Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs. Then came his run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where despite not getting to run his race and finishing fourth, 11 lengths behind undefeated Flightline  , the colt was greeted with a crescendo of applause from the grandstand while returning to be unsaddled.

“He really has an incredible fan base,” Reed said. “We saw that after the Lukas Classic as well; he got a standing ovation. And up in Saratoga they went crazy as he walked to the paddock. He has a great fan base and that’s why it’s especially nice to give him another shot to run at his home track.”

West Will Power and Joel Rosario win the G2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes,  Keeneland Racetrack, Lexington, KY, 10-29-22, Mathea KelleyPhoto: Mathea Kelley

West Will Power dominates the field to take the Fayette Stakes at Keeneland

While Rich Strike is the sole grade 1 winner in the 1 1/8-mile Clark, the race won’t exactly be a cakewalk for the late-running chestnut. Trainer Brad Cox sends out two formidable foes in multiple graded stakes winner Fulsome  and the improving West Will Power , an impressive victor of the Fayette Stakes (G2) at Keeneland Oct. 29.

West Will Power, a homebred for Gary and Mary West, turned in a breakthrough performance in the Fayette, taking advantage of a paceless race on paper and cruising by 6 3/4 lengths in gate-to-wire fashion.

“(West Will Power) got the setup, but he’s obviously a nice horse,” Cox told BloodHorse after the Fayette. “This was his third race off the layoff. He’s a nice horse who’s kind of finding his best stride later in life.”

Fulsome, an earner of more than $1.1 million for Juddmonte Farm, finished a distant second behind his stablemate in the Fayette. The 4-year-old son of Into Mischief  , winner of the West Virginia Governors Stakes (G3) in August, has a come-from-behind running style akin to Rich Strike’s. Both closers could fall victim to the Clark pace scenario should West Will Power steal away with an easy lead as he did at Keeneland.

“Hopefully, someone will go with (West Will Power) and not let him gallop along on the lead so easily,” Reed said.

J and J Stable’s Injuction, winner of the R.A. “Cowboy” Jones Overnight Stakes at Ellis Park two starts back, and Keeneland allowance optional claiming winner Trademark , the only other 3-year-old in the Clark, may give some company to West Will Power on the front end.

Regardless of the Clark’s outcome, Rich Strike will be given a “lengthy” freshening following the race, with an overseas venture on the horizon for the colt come 2023. The $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) and $12 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airlines (G1) are potential targets named by Reed.

“When I tried to give him a break after the Belmont, he didn’t really like getting a rest,” Reed said. “He likes to train. I’m sure we can give him a little bit of a rest, but for how long he lets us give him a rest is up to him. But our plans are not to run him again till late February or late March.

“If anything goes wrong this week, we won’t run, but the way things have gone the last two weeks I think he’s absolutely ready to try this one time off the short rest,” Reed said. “And it will probably be the only time in his career that he has to do this. Hopefully, Richie can give us one last big race for the year.”


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