by Jon White
May 12, 2022
Grindstone, Giacomo, Animal Kingdom…and now Rich Strike has joined this exclusive club.
Rich who? What club?
Rich Strike is only the fourth member of what might be called the “Eighth Pole Exception Club.” The club consists of just four horses to have not been first or second with a furlong left to run in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby from 1963 to present.
With a furlong to go in last Saturday’s 148th Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike was gaining fast along the inside rail. But unlike 54 of the last 57 Kentucky Derby winners prior to this year, Rich Strike was not first or second a furlong from the finish. He was third. In fact, Rich Strike was not close to being first or second at that point. Rich Strike was three lengths behind Zandon in second. Zandon was one length behind the leading Epicenter.
Last in the field of 20 for a brief time after the start and in front of just two foes three furlongs from the finish, Rich Strike generated quite a rally to reach third at the eighth pole. After passing eighth pole, he continued closing with gusto to win by three-quarters of a length in a gigantic upset. Epicenter, eighth early, ran an admirable race to finish second as the 4-1 favorite. Zandon, who had made a move to loom a serious threat in upper stretch, had to settle for third at 6-1 after never being able to get by Epicenter in the final furlong.
The official Equibase chart lists the final time as 2:02.61. According to Daily Racing Form’s Forumulator, which is an extremely useful tool for horseplayers that I highly recommend, Rich Strike ran his final quarter in :24.83 or :24 4/5 in fifths. That’s quite a strong final quarter in a 1 1/4-mile race.
Primarily because Rich Strike was 80-1 in the Kentucky Derby, no doubt many will be looking at his win as being pure happenstance. Will Rich Strike turn out to be a one-hit wonder? Maybe. Does he require a sizzling pace to set it up for him in order to beat the likes of Epicenter and/or Zandon? Again, maybe.
Or is Rich Strike, a la Charismatic in 1999, blossoming into a serious racehorse at this time of the year?
Dawson put it well when he said after the Kentucky Derby, “our horse just keeps getting better and better.
Will Rich Strike, like Charismatic, follow his Kentucky Derby victory with a win in the May 21 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico? I think it is a possibility.
To be perfectly frank, part of me just can’t help rooting for Rich Strike to win the Preakness and then go on to the June 11 Belmont Stakes with a shot at Triple Crown glory. Imagine all the positive media coverage for horse racing if that does happen.
I keep coming back to Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby final quarter in :24 4/5. It indicates to me that his victory might not be the fluke that his rags-to-riches 80-1 odds would seem to suggest.
When it comes to final quarters in the Kentucky Derby, the king is, without question, the legendary Secretariat.
In the book “Big Red of Meadow Stable: Secretariat, the Making of a Champion,” William Nack wrote that Secretariat, who rallied from far back to win by 2 1/2 lengths, ran his “final quarter-mile in :23.”
Secretariat “raced every quarter-mile in the Kentucky Derby faster than the preceding quarter,” Nack added. “His final splits were :25 1/5, :24, :23 4/5, :23 1/5 and :23. No one could remember when a horse had ever done that over a distance of a mile and a quarter. Secretariat literally ran faster from start to finish.”
Nack noted in his book that Secretariat was just the third horse in Kentucky Derby history to that point to have ever run the final quarter faster than :24. The other two were Whirlaway in 1941 and Proud Clarion in 1967. Whirlaway and Proud Clarion both ran their final quarter in :23 and change.
While Rich Strike did not run his final quarter in :23 and change, doing it in :24 and change certainly is to be commended.
WINNER TRAVELED FARTHER THAN EPICENTER, ZANDON
According to Trakus, Rich Strike traveled 6,756 feet in the Kentucky Derby. That was 58 feet (or approximately 6 1/2 lengths) farther than Epicenter. It was 71 feet (or approximately 8 lengths) farther than Zandon.
I’ve heard it said that Mo Donegal might have won the Kentucky Derby if he had not raced extremely wide into the stretch, unlike Rich Strike, who got through along the inside rail coming to the top of the lane. Because Mo Donegal had come into the stretch so wide, my guess was his trip must have been measured longer than Rich Strike’s. But according to Trakus, Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby trip was 23 feet (approximately 2 1/2 lengths) farther than Mo Donegal’s.
Trakus was one of the reasons that I loved I’ll Have Another to win the Preakness in 2012. According to Trakus, I’ll Have Another traveled much farther than runner-up Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby. I’ll Have Another won the Derby by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 15-1. Bodemeister finished second as the 4-1 favorite.
The only Kentucky Derby winner to this day who has started from post 19, I’ll Have Another traveled approximately five lengths farther that day than Bodemeister.
To Bodemeister’s credit, he ran a terrific race to finish second in the Kentucky Derby after setting such a hot pace. His carved out early fractions of :22.32, :45.39 and 1:09.80. Andy Beyer in particular raved about how great Bodemeister had run in defeat considering the sizzling splits. I don’t disagree. But I don’t think people have ever given I’ll Have Another enough credit to win from post 19 and travel so much farther than Bodemeister. It also should be remembered that I’ll Have Another did not win in a photo finish. He defeated Bodemeister by 1 1/2 lengths.
I also believe that I’ll Have Another has never received his proper due for his final time in the Kentucky Derby. In fifths, it was 2:01 4/5. That clocking was equal to the final Kentucky Derby time of such other winners as Big Brown, Chateaugay, Majestic Prince, Riva Ridge and Swaps.
I’ll Have Another’s final time of 2:01 4/5 also was faster than that of such fellow Kentucky Derby winners as Justify (2018), American Pharoah (2015), California Chrome (2014), Animal Kingdom (2011), Street Sense (2007), Charismatic (1999), Real Quiet (1998), Silver Charm (1997), Unbridled (1990), Ferdinand (1986), Pleasant Colony (1981), Genuine Risk (1980), Seattle Slew (1977), Foolish Pleasure (1975), Cannonade (1974), Canonero II (1971), Iron Liege (1957), Needles (1956), Count Fleet (1943) and War Admiral (1937).
Despite I’ll Have Another’s fine final time and traveling farther than Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby, when they had their rematch in the Preakness, I’ll Have Another was not sent away as the favorite. Bodemeister was favored at 8-5. I’ll Have Another went off at 3-1.
Bodemeister looked like a winner when he had a three-length lead with a furlong left to run in the Preakness. But I’ll Have Another came on relentlessly and prevailed by a neck in a thriller. Did that race take a toll on them both? Perhaps. Neither raced again.
It has been confirmed that Epicenter is going to be entered in the upcoming Preakness. I fully expect him to be the betting favorite. Keith Feustle, who makes the morning-line odds for Pimlico, agrees.
In a Daily Racing Form story written by Marty McGee, Feustle said Epicenter “definitely” will be the Preakness morning-line favorite, “probably around 9-5, depending on who else is in.”
As for what Rich Strike’s morning-line odds are going to be?
“From the public’s perspective, I think Rich Strike will fall through the cracks again a little, even as the Derby winner,” Feustle said. Feustle said that Rich Strike will be 8-1 “or maybe even a touch higher” on his Preakness morning line, again depending who’s in and who’s out when entries are drawn Monday (May 16).
McGee pointed out that going back to 1999, bettors viewed three Kentucky Derby winners at 30-1 or higher with skepticism when they ran back two weeks later in the Preakness.
Charismatic in 1999 won the Kentucky Derby at 31-1, then won the Preakness at 3-1. Giacomo in 2005 won the Derby at 50-1, then was 6-1 in the Preakness. Mine That Bird in 2009 won the Derby at 50-1, then was 6-1 in the Preakness.
Epicenter deserves the utmost respect in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. After all, he probably would have won the Kentucky Derby if it also were a 1 3/16-mile event. Epicenter had the lead at that point in the Derby. And it’s highly unlikely the Preakness pace is going to be anywhere close to as torrid as it was in the Derby.
Meanwhile, if you are among those who are convinced that Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby victory was a fluke and dismiss him in the Preakness, it might turn out that you were right to do so. But I warn you. Considering Trakus has Rich Strike traveling approximately 6 1/2 lengths farther than Epicenter and eight lengths farther than Zandon in Louisville last Saturday, you also might end up regretting it if you throw out Rich Strike in the Preakness.
THE RIDE WAS A MASTERPIECE
Sonny Leon, far from a household name gave Rich Strike a sensational ride in the Kentucky Derby. Pretty much his major accomplishments prior to last Saturday were his Ohio riding titles at Mahoning Valley and Belterra Park.
How about this? From what I found out on the Equibase website, Leon had not ridden in a race at Churchill Downs since June 26, 2020. In the sixth race that day, Leon rode Tohu in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance affair contested on a wet-fast main track after it was taken off the turf. What happened to Leon in that race? He was unseated at the start.
“Tohu reared on his own when the gates opened, lost his rider and walked off.”
Because Leon had not ridden at Churchill Downs in such a long time, I think he’s probably lucky they didn’t turn him away at the door when he showed up to ride Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby. I could just picture it.
Leon shows up at the Churchill Downs jockeys’ room.
“Uh, where do you think you’re going?” a security guard asks him.
“I’m here to ride in the Kentucky Derby,” Leon responds.
“You’re here to ride in the Kentucky Derby? Yeah, sure, kid. Nice try,” the security guard says while Leon begins searching for his jockey license to show the security guard.
“No, really, sir, I am here to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Honest,” says Leon, who finally finds his valid license and shows it to the security guard.
The security guard permits Leon to enter a jockeys’ room in which there 19 others who will be riding in the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, Leon will be competing against Hall of Famers Mike Smith and Johnny Velazquez, plus such big-name jockeys as Tyler Gaffalione, Florent Geroux, Irad Ortiz Jr., Jose Ortiz, Flavien Prat, Joel Rosario and Luis Saez.
The day before the Kentucky Derby, Leon rode six races at Belterra Park. He won none. In the feature race, the $75,000 Daryl E. Parker Memorial Tall Stack Stakes for 3-year-old Ohio foals, Leon rode the 8-5 favorite, Country Club Bobby. They lost by a neck to Tantrum. That occurred at about 3:45 p.m.
The following day at a little past 7:00 p.m., Leon won the feature race at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby, which only happens to be the most coveted prize in all of American racing short of winning the Triple Crown.
And now, after the outcome of the Kentucky Derby, there is only one 3-year-old who has a shot at a Triple Crown sweep this year. It is a Kentucky-bred colt that Leon, trainer Eric Reed and owner Rick Dawson call Ritchie.
As for Leon’s ride on Ritchie, when watching the overhead drone replay, one can only marvel at how skillfully he negotiated the 10 furlongs. Dawson called the ride “amazing.” He’s right. Oh, sure, there also was an element of good fortune along the way. But every time Leon had to make a single split-second decision, it turned out right.
Turning for home, Rich Strike was in heavy traffic and stalled behind a wall of horses. Rich Strike and Leon could have gotten stopped cold right then and there. But they managed to linger patiently for a brief time before somehow making their way through the equine crowd. Coming into the stretch, Leon angled Rich Strike down to the inside rail. Riding the rail as much as possible brought three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel to mind.
While Rich Strike and Leon were flying along the rail in the lane, shortly after going past the eighth pole, they found themselves running right up behind faltering Messier, who was in the process of retreating toward the back of the pack after having vied for the lead all the way around the far turn to the top of the stretch. What Leon was confronted with was akin to when you are driving about 70 miles an hour on the freeway and you suddenly realize that you’re rapidly approaching a truck in the same lane going about 50.
It appears from the overhead drone replay that Leon initially was going to try and sneak through a narrow hole between the inside rail and Messier. But quicker than you can say Sonny, he changed his mind and elected to go around Messier. That in and of itself was a brilliant piece of race-riding. Without missing a beat, Leon deftly maneuvered Rich Strike around Messier, then moved back down to the rail while continuing to charge home furiously.
In deep stretch, Epicenter was in front and trying desperately to hold on. A victory by him would snap Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s much-talked-about 0 for 23 Kentucky Derby record coming into this year. Approaching the finish, Epicenter was well out from the rail. According to Trakus, at the finish, Epicenter was 20.7 feet off the rail. Even further out was Zandon, who was 29.3 feet off the rail. After surging past both Epicenter and Zandon in the final sixteenth, Rich Strike was 13.2 feet off the rail when he crossed the finish line first.
In my opinion, Leon’s ride was nothing less than on a par with a Shoemaker, an Arcaro or a Hartack at their very best.
Following Leon’s win in last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, he went on vacation, but not by choice. He began serving a four-day suspension, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Leon was sanctioned for careless riding aboard One Glamorous Gal in the third race at Ohio’s Thistledown on April 27.
A RIDICULOUSLY FAST PACE
What helped set the table for Rich Strike’s come-from-behind victory was what often is referred to as a pace meltdown. When the pace of a race is unusually fast, oftentimes it sets the race up to be won by someone with a good late kick.
After the race, NBC racing analyst Randy Moss, an expert on the subject of pace, called attention to the early fractions being a scorching :21.78 for the first quarter and :45.36 for the half.
“This is a historically fast, suicidal, radioactive Kentucky Derby pace,” Moss said.
A short time later, Moss noted that :21.78 made it the fastest opening quarter in Kentucky Derby history.
Even though Epicenter did not win, he received a smart ride by Rosario. Epicenter previously had never been worse than third early. But rather than get in the vicinity of such a fast pace, Prat allowed Epicenter to be all the way back in eighth passing the finish the line the first time. The seven horses in front of him at that point wound up paying the price for being on or near the blistering pace and finished no better than 10th. Check out where those first seven horses at the first quarter all finished:
Position at First 1/4 Finish
Now check out where the first seven horses across the finish line were at the first quarter:
Finish Position at First Quarter
Summer Is Tomorrow, who had run in sprints before finishing second in the UAE Derby at about 1 3/16 miles, blazed the first quarter in :21.78. He also had the lead after a half in :45.36. Not surprisingly, his early efforts took such a toll that he finished 20th.
The fastest first quarter in Kentucky Derby history previously had been Top Avenger’s :21.80 in 1981. He finished 19th in the field of 21. Pleasant Colony won after being 17th early.
The fastest first half is still Songandaprayer’s insane :44.86 in 2001. He finished 13th in the field of 17. Monarchos won after being 13th early in the field of 17.
California-based runners had finished first in seven of the last 10 Kentucky Derbies coming into this year. Regarding the three such starters this year, Taiba finished 12th, Happy Jack came in in 14th and Messier, as mentioned early, ended up 15th.
Taiba was my top pick following his impressive Grade I Santa Anita Derby victory. Many people had taken a stand against him because he had only two career starts under his belt going into the Run for the Roses. Maybe the lack of experience and a foundation did prove to be his undoing. Taiba did not look comfortable early when getting dirt in his face in a race for the first time.
I can’t fault John Velazquez on Messier or Mike Smith on Taiba for trying to break well and secure a forward position early. After all, every Kentucky Derby winner going back to 2012 had been not worse than third at any point in the race.
But this year’s Kentucky Derby bore no resemblance to those from 2012 to 2021 from a pace standpoint. It turned out that this was not a Derby to be attempting to race forwardly early. In this case, those tactics backfired.
WHO IS THAT HORSE?
I’ve had three Kentucky Derbies during my lifetime when I asked this question during the stretch run: “Who is that horse?”
It first happened in 1971. I was at a track by the name of Yakima Meadows in Yakima, Wash. I wasn’t even watching the race on television. In 1971, Yakima Meadows did not show the Kentucky Derby on any of its TV monitors. Because I wouldn’t be able to watch the race on TV, I decided to do the next-best thing by listening to it on my radio in my dad’s car in the parking lot.
When I heard during the radio call that Canonero II had taken the lead during the stretch run, I remember thinking, “Who? Who is that?”
In a major upset, Canonero II rallied from 18th to win the Kentucky Derby by 3 3/4 lengths.
In 1971, it was a horse from Venezuela who won the Kentucky Derby. This year it was a jockey from Venezuela winning the same race.
Pioneerof the Nile was my top pick in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. At the top of the stretch, I thought he was on his way to victory. I was sitting on the HRTV set next to Millie Ball, wife of Tim Yakteen, trainer of this year’s Kentucky Derby starters Taiba and Messier.
When a horse seemed to come out of nowhere on the sloppy track and ran right by Pioneerof the Nile in the stretch, I asked Millie: “Who is that?”
“I don’t know,” she replied.
We soon discovered that it was 50-1 Mine That Bird, who had been last early in the field of 19.
While my attention was focused on Epicenter trying to fend off Zandon in the final furlong last Saturday, all of a sudden a horse appeared late on the scene. “Who is that horse?” I thought.
I did not readily recognize the red and white silks worn by the jockey on this “mystery horse” coming home with gusto. It appeared to me to that the horse had a white saddle towel, which is the color for the 2 horse. Also, only the number 2 was visible on the saddle towel. This made me think it was Happy Jack. He was the 2 horse.
But it was not Happy Jack. It turned out to be No. 21 Rich Strike, wearing a lavender saddle towel, with the lavender so light I easily mistook it for being white. The saddle towel had a 21 on it in navy, but I really could only see the 2 because of the jockey’s black boot was covering part of the number.
FANS IN ATTENDANCE UNDERSTANDABLY STUNNED
When I read what the crowd’s immediate reaction to Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby upset victory was, it reminded me of what happened when I was on hand at Santa Anita for the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Virtually ignored in the wagering, French raider Arcangues, a son of 1984 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Sagace, rallied to win the 1993 BC Classic by two lengths. He paid a whopping $269.20 for a $2 win bet. Talk about a horse outrunning his odds. Immediately after the race, the crowd was unusually hushed as fans were seemingly in a state of shock. To this day, it’s the biggest win payoff in Breeders’ Cup history.
After this year’s Kentucky Derby, the crowd reaction was very similar to the 1993 BC Classic.
“It’s hard to get about 150,000 people to go from a full-throated roar to library-like quiet,” Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman wrote. “But for a smattering of those who perhaps play blackjack and like the number 21, or especially those connected with a heretofore unknown colt named Rich Strike, Churchill Downs, back with a full house after two years of racing under restrictions [due to COVID-19], fell into mostly stunned silence following the 148th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.”
You’ve heard of Sunday Silence, the 1989 Kentucky Derby winner? Well, it seems that there almost was Saturday Silence beneath the famed Twin Spires after Rich Strike’s shocker.
Rich Strike’s triumph was the second-biggest upset in the history of the Kentucky Derby, which is America’s longest continuously run sporting event. His win at odds of 80-1 is topped only by 91-1 Donerail, who got the job done by a half-length and paid $184.90 for a $2 win ticket in 1913. As in the case of Rich Strike, the favorite ran second in Donerail’s Derby. That was Ten Point, who was backed down to 6-5 by a crowd said to have been 30,000.
The odds actually came down on Rich Strike to 80-1 from the 99-1 he was all day Friday in advance wagering and the 99-1 he still was Saturday morning.
A $2 win wager on Rich Strike returned $163.60. He paid $74.20 to place and $29.40 to show.
I must confess that I was sorry to see that $74.20 place payout, which was a Kentucky Derby record. The record had been $70.00 set by Closing Argument, my top pick in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. Closing Argument lost by just a half-length while finishing second to 50-1 Giacomo. It was so disappointing to come that close to picking a 71-1 upset winner of the Kentucky Derby, but I always could take some solace in that he set the record for the biggest place payout. But now it’s Rich Strike who holds that record.
FIRST ALSO-ELIGIBLE WINNER
The 20 horses with the most qualifying points get a spot in the starting gate, with as many as four horses listed in order of preference on the also-eligible list.
Rich Strike’s connections had hoped for weeks that he would get into the Kentucky Derby starting gate. They closely monitored the Kentucky Derby points standings.
The Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 16 was the final race with points up for grabs toward a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby. With all the races offering Kentucky Derby points over, Rich Strike’s 21 points put him No. 24 on the list of Derby candidates.
In the 1970s, I formed a racehorse ownership partnership in Spokane, Wash., called Media Madness. This group was similar, at a much smaller level, to such current racehorse partnerships as Myracehorse.com, Little Red Feather, West Point Thoroughbreds, etc. Media Madness Stable consisted of yours truly and seven other members of the media. One of the seven was Terry Mauer of Spokane’s KREM-TV.
In an email after this year’s Kentucky Derby, Mauer pointed out how important it was for Rich Strike to have finished third in Turfway Park’s Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on April 2. Rich Strike came on from last in the field of 11 to get third as a 26-1 longshot. By finishing third, Rich Strike earned 20 Kentucky Derby points. That gave him a total of 21 after he had received a single Kentucky Derby point for finishing fourth in Turfway’s John Battaglia Stakes on March 5.
On Monday, May 2, when entries were taken and post positions were drawn for the 2022 Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike had moved up the ladder to No. 21 on the points list, which meant he just missed getting into the main body of the race. Rich Strike’s 21 points were good enough for him to be first on the also-eligible list. Next in line at 22 was Rattle N Roll, who had 20 points. There were no others on the also-eligible list besides Rich Strike and Rattle N Roll.
The rules specify that scratch time for the Kentucky Derby is the day before the race at 9 a.m. If no horses had been withdrawn from the Derby, both Rich Strike and Rattle N Roll would have been scratched.
At the eleventh hour, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas notified Churchill Downs racing officials that he was scratching Ethereal Road. Lukas later explained that he was not happy with how Ethereal Road had trained Thursday and Friday mornings.
“At 8:45 the morning before the Derby, Reed was notified that there were no scratches and they were not going to get in,” Secretariat.com’s Steve Haskin wrote in his Kentucky Derby recap. “The security guard was told to leave the barn and Reed texted his dad and simply said, ‘Didn’t happen.’ He texted some of his friends and said, ‘We didn’t get in. Sorry guys.’ He then went to his crew to tell them in person because he knew they were going to be really let down.”
A short time later, steward Barber Borden called Reed.
“This is the steward,” Borden said, according to Haskin. “Tomorrow in the twelfth race, the Kentucky Derby, do you want to draw in off the also eligible?”
As we know, Reed answered in the affirmative.
If Rich Strike had not been able to start in the Kentucky Derby, Plan B was for him to run in this Saturday’s Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park as a springboard to the Belmont Stakes.
Reed and Dawson have each said it’s not as if they were expecting Rich Strike to win the Kentucky Derby. But they felt that Ritchie had trained so well that they were expecting him to run well.
Rich Strike then went out there and ran a heckuva lot better than just well.
ONLY SECOND WINNER FROM POST 20
By scratching in, Rich Strike automatically got the outside post in the field of 20 (coincidentally the same post from which Ethereal Road would have started).
Only three horses in history have won the Kentucky Derby from a post position higher than 18. They are I’ll Have Another from post 19 a decade ago, plus Big Brown from post 20 in 2008 and now Rich Strike from post 20 this year.
FIRST GRADED STAKES WIN FOR HORSE AND RIDER
The Kentucky Derby provided both Rich Strike and Leon with their first-ever graded stakes victory. I’m guessing this is the first time in history that a jockey’s initial graded stakes win has come in the Kentucky Derby.
For Rich Strike, the Kentucky Derby was his first stakes victory. It was only his second career win.
After the Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike is still eligible to run in a race restricted to non-winners of three races lifetime. With that in mind, the racing secretary at Belterra Park supposedly contacted Reed and jokingly said: “I’d be perfectly willing to write a non-winners of three for Rich Strike.”
I don’t think we will be seeing Rich Strike show up in some such allowance race at Belterra. I’d say it’s a much safer bet that the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes is going to be the next start for Ritchie.
Graded stakes races were introduced in the United States in 1973. From that year to the present, Rich Strike is only the fifth horse to win the Kentucky Derby without having previously been victorious in a graded stakes race. The others are Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005.
This also was the first Grade I win of Reed’s 37-year career as a trainer. His first stakes victory occurred at Latonia (now Turfway Park) with Native Drummer in the Forego Stakes.
Prior to the Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike had won just once in seven career starts. His lone previous victory had come in a one-mile maiden claiming contest on the dirt. Rich Strike won by 17 1/4 lengths. The date was last Sept. 17. The track was Churchill Downs.
Rich Strike now is 2 for 2 on the main track at Churchill, but 0 for 5 otherwise.
In Rich Strike’s only start before his lopsided Sept. 17 maiden claiming win, he had finished tenth at 9-2 in a one-mile maiden special weight race on the grass Aug. 15 Ellis Park for owner Calumet Farm and trainer Joe Sharp.
Rich Strike was 10-1 in the betting when he ran in the Sept. 17 maiden claiming race. Dawson spent $30,000 to claim him. There were no other claims submitted, which means Dawson did not have to win a shake to get Rich Strike.
Around that same time, Dawson and Reed did get outshook for another horse they tried to claim. Although they were thwarted in their attempt to claim that horse, they did get Rich Strike for $30,000. First prize in the Kentucky Derby was $1,860,000.
FIRST TO BE CLAIMED AND THEN WIN ROSES
Rich Strike has yet another distinction. He became the first horse to ever win the Kentucky Derby after having been claimed.
According to BloodHorse’s Avalyn Hunter, “three other future Derby winners ran in claiming races without changing hands: Mine That Bird (2009), who won a $62,00 maiden claimer; Charismatic (1999), who started twice with a $62,500 tag; and Dust Commander (1970), who ran for a $7,500 tag in his second start.
“All four were pricy compared to Apollo (1882) and Elwood (1904). Both ran in selling races (the precursors to modern claiming races) prior to their big days at Churchill Downs and both were offered at less than $1,000. Unlike a claiming race, horses ran in selling races for price tags which were the minimum bids for a post-race auction.”
The way the selling races worked, if no one put a claim in for a horse, then the horses stayed with his or her owner. If one or more people did submit a claim, an auction for the horse was held. The original owner, if they so desired, could even outbid the others to reacquire their horse.
Dawson said one of the reasons he claimed Rich Strike is the owner is a big fan of the colt’s sire, Keen Ice. Also, Reed had liked what he had seen of Rich Strike in his workouts on the dirt before Ritchie kicked off his racing career on the turf.
A FEEL-GOOD STORY
The shocking Kentucky Derby win by Rich Strike seems like it is being embraced by the general public. The fairy-tale story of such an underdog to burst on the scene seemingly from out of nowhere is a much-welcomed boon to Thoroughbred racing following some turbulent times in recent years.
It seems to me that Rich Strike’s name is a darn good one for a Kentucky Derby winner. I think it also might well be adding to his appeal with the public.
“Rich Strike, he’s no longer is owned by Rick Dawson. He’s owned by America,” Dawson said. “I truly believe that.”
As for the trainer, how can one not especially appreciate the heartwarming story of seeing 57-year-old Reed win the Kentucky Derby after he suffered through the devastation of a barn fire in 2016 that swept through his Mercury Equine Training Center in Kentucky, killing 23 horses? Understandably, Reed very nearly got out of racing after that. But he decided to stick with it and, lo and behold, he now is a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer.
Do you realize Reed once came close to beating mighty Zenyatta? Reed trained a mare by the name of Rinterval, who was 10-1 in the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar in 2010. Zenyatta was an overwhelming 1-10 favorite while seeking to extend her undefeated winning streak to 18 and take the Hirsch for the third straight year.
Zenyatta did win the 2010 Hirsch, but by only a neck. Rinterval finished a game second in a performance that made her trainer proud.
“It was a great day for me and my horse and a great day for the champ,” Reed was quoted as saying in Tracy Gantz’s Hirsch recap for BloodHorse.
Zenyatta would go on to remain undefeated through her first 19 career starts before closing out her magnificent career with a close second to Blame in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Reed? He would go on to saddle the 2022 Kentucky Derby winner.
A GIANT LEAP BEYER-WISE
Rich Strike was credited with a 101 Beyer Speed Figure for his Kentucky Derby performance. His previous top had been an 84 in the Jeff Ruby Steaks on a synthetic surface. His previous best figure on dirt had been just a 65 in his maiden claiming romp by 17 1/4 lengths last year.
It should be noted that Rich Strike did bring an improving Beyer Speed Figure pattern into the Kentucky Derby. After recording a 56 Beyer at Keeneland last Oct. 9, he posted figures of 64, then 68, then 76, then 84, then the 101 last Saturday.
A couple of sharp workouts, coupled with his improving Beyers, indicated Rich Strike was primed to possibly run a better race in the Kentucky Derby than he ever had before.
Rich Strike worked four furlongs in :48.00 at Keeneland on April 16. It was the 10th best of 106 works at the distance that morning. That was followed by a sharp five furlongs in :59.60 at Churchill on April 27.
Below are the Beyers for Kentucky Derby winners going back to 1989 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only):
2022 Rich Strike (101)
2021 Mandaloun (101)*
2020 Authentic (105)
2019 Country House (99)**
2018 Justify (103)
2017 Always Dreaming (102)
2016 Nyquist (103)
2015 American Pharoah (105)
2014 California Chrome (97)
2013 Orb (104)
2012 I’ll Have Another (101)
2011 Animal Kingdom (103)
2010 Super Saver (104)
2009 Mine That Bird (105)
2008 Big Brown (109)
2007 Street Sense (110)
2006 Barbaro (111)
2005 Giacomo (100)
2004 Smarty Jones (107)
2003 Funny Cide (109)
2002 War Emblem (114)
2001 Monarchos (116)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (108)
1999 Charismatic (108)
1998 Real Quiet (107)
1997 Silver Charm (115)
1996 Grindstone (112)
1995 Thunder Gulch (108)
1994 Go for Gin (112)
1993 Sea Hero (105)
1992 Lil E. Tee (107)
1991 Strike the Gold (not listed)
1990 Unbridled (not listed)
1989 Sunday Silence (102)
*Medina Spirit (102 Beyer) finished first but was disqualified and forfeited all purse money due to a medication violation, with Mandaloun being declared the winner
**Country House finished second but was placed first through the disqualification of Maximum Security (101 Beyer)
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Rich Strike’s sire, Keen Ice, is best remembered for ambushing Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga in the summer of 2015. It was a victory that brought to mind such other upsets at the “graveyard of favorites” as Man o’ War getting beat by the aptly named Upset, Gallant Fox losing to Jim Dandy and Secretariat finishing second to Onion.
American Pharoah ran second in the Travers at odds of 1-5. It was his only defeat in eight 2015 starts. Later that year, American Pharoah won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland and was voted 2015 Horse of the Year.
In the Travers, American Pharoah lost by three-quarters of a length to Keen Ice, who won just three of 24 starts during his career.
Though Keen Ice’s Travers victory is appropriately considered to be one of the biggest upsets in the last decade on the American racing stage, he was 16-1 that day, which pales in comparison to his son’s shocking win in the Kentucky Derby at 80-1.
Keen Ice is by Curlin, who finished third in the 2007 Kentucky Derby before winning the Preakness and back-to-back Horse of the Year titles for Asmussen.
Curlin is by Grade I winner Smart Strike. Two-time Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky also is a son of Smart Strike. Lookin At Lucky is the sire of 2019 Kentucky Derby winner (via the disqualification of Maximum Security) Country House.
Rich Strike’s dam, Bold Strike, is by Smart Strike. In 2015, Bold Strike won the Woodbine Oaks and finished third against the boys in the prestigious Queen’s Plate. She was Canada’s Sovereign Award-winning 3-year-old filly champion that year.
YET ANOTHER DERBY VICTOR BRED BY CALUMET
Back in the day, Calumet Farm was a dynasty much like that of the New York Yankees in baseball.
Calumet Farm is the breeder of Rich Strike.
Thanks to Rich Strike, the famous farm increased the record number of Kentucky Derby winners it has bred to 10.
Reclusive billionaire Brad Kelley now is at the Calumet helm.
Before Kelley, winners of the Kentucky Derby bred by Calumet while under Warren Wright’s ownership were Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949) and Hill Gail (1952).
Following Wright’s death, his widow, Lucille, and her subsequent husband Gene Markey ran Calumet and bred Iron Liege (1957), Tim Tam (1958) and Forward Pass (1968). The Wright’s heirs were in charge of breeding Strike the Gold (1991).
Whirlaway and Citation were Triple Crown winners for Calumet.
DIVISIVE COMMENTS ACROSS SOCIAL MEDIA
Rich Strike’s behavior following the finish of the Kentucky Derby “has been the subject of divisive comments across social media,” the Paulick Report noted.
“After Rich Strike crossed the wire in front, outrider Greg Blasi went to collect the colt in order to allow jockey Sonny Leon to be interviewed by NBC,” the Paulick Report continued. “Instead, Rich Strike became aggressive and attempted to savage Blasi’s mount multiple times.”
To “savage” in horse racing is to “bite.” And Rich Strike actually did a lot more than attempt to savage Blasi’s pony. Rich Strike did inflict some serious wounds on both the pony and Blasi.
Rich Strike’s trainer addressed the issue Monday morning on NBC’s Today Show. Reed said the outrider’s actions actually prevented the colt from hurting himself.
“I want to clear that up,” Reed said. “The outrider’s job at the end of the race is to help get the leading horse slowed down, and take him around and let [the jockey] do the interview. Well, Ritchie, he was in ‘killer mode,’ he was gonna outrun every horse on the track. He had not ever had a horse, after the finish line, come over to him. So when he saw that pony coming his way, he thought he had another horse to beat and was trying to run by it.
“The man [Blasi] did his job. He reached out and grabbed a hold of the horse and it made [Rich Strike] mad. [Rich Strike] didn’t know that he was trying to help him. He thought he was supposed to outrun that horse, and he bit the guy’s leg terribly. He bit his arm, a couple of really bad bites. The horse is not a mean horse. He was just in race mode and he didn’t understand why they were grabbing him to slow him down.
“That man saved my horse from injury, because had he got up in the air and lost my rider, he could have gotten loose.”
Reed said he was sorry for the injuries Blasi and his pony sustained in the incident.
UPDATED DERBY STRIKES SITUATION
In 1999, I developed my Derby Strikes System (DSS). It consists of eight key factors that attempt to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from BOTH tactical and historical perspectives. When a horse does not qualify in one of the eight categories, the horse gets a strike.
Because two of the categories deal with graded stakes races, the Derby Strikes System can’t go back any further than 1973. That’s because races in this country were not graded until 1973.
The eight categories in the DSS are listed toward the end of this column/blog/article.
A number of the categories in my DSS are tied to a Kentucky Derby being run on the first Saturday in May. As a result, when the race was switched from May 2 to Sept. 5 in 2020 due to COVID-19, it rendered my DSS unworkable for that particular year.
A horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. According to the DSS as it’s now constituted and excluding the Kentucky Derby of 2020 when the race was run in September, 83% of the Kentucky Derby winners (40 out of 48) have had zero strikes or one strike going back to 1973.
Rich Strike is the eighth Kentucky Derby winner to have two strikes. The others were Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005), Justify (2018) and Country House (2019).
Only one horse has won the Kentucky Derby with more than two strikes. That was Mine that Bird, who had four strikes.
Considering Rich Strike’s 80-1 odds were higher than Mine That Bird’s 50-1, you might have expected Rich Strike to have more than two strikes.
My friend, enthusiastic racing fan Ryan Stillman, points out that Rich Strike does have three strikes if you include the second half of his name. But for DSS purposes, having “strike” in your name does not count.
WINNER’S STRIKES GOING BACK TO 1973
As explained earlier, inasmuch as two of the categories deal with graded stakes races, the Derby Strikes System can’t go back any further than 1973. Again, that is because races in this country were not graded until 1973.
Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th for committing a foul when he veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. Country House was declared the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But in terms of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, Mandaloun is now recognized as the winner following Medina Spirit’s disqualification.
The strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973 are below:
2021 Mandaloun (1 strike) Category 4*
2020 race run in September
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3**
2018 Justify (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 7
2017 Always Dreaming (1 strike) Category 1
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (0 strikes)
2011 Animal Kingdom (0 strikes)
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (0 strikes)
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 8
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
*Medina Spirit (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and all purse money forfeited
**Maximum Security (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and placed 17th
MY DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
What are the eight categories in my Derby Strikes System? They are listed below:
1. THE GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Going back to the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions going back to the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE CATEGORY. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 53 of the last 56 Kentucky Derby winners through 2021 have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second a furlong from the finish in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS CATEGORY. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009, Super Saver in 2010 and Mandaloun in 2021, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION CATEGORY. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS CATEGORY. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Going back to 1973, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. Going back to 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old now are a combined 1 for 67 in the Kentucky Derby through 2021. During this period, the only horses to finish second or third in the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.)
8. THE NOT A GELDING CATEGORY. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)
NTRA TOP THROUGHBRED POLL
Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer again is in the top spot on the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 285 Country Grammer (20)
2. 279 Letruska (10)
3. 229 Life Is Good (2)
4. 227 Hot Rod Charlie
4. 170 Speaker’s Corner
6. 146 Olympiad
7. 138 Jackie’s Warrior
8. 71 Express Train
9. 66 Golden Pal
10. 60 Flightline
NTRA TOP THREE-YEAR-OLD POLL
Epicenter did not win the Kentucky Derby, but he continues to hold the top spot on the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. Rich Strike debuts on the Top 10 at No. 3.
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 314 Epicenter (20)
2. 271 Zandon
3. 256 Rich Strike (10)
4. 203 Secret Oath (4)
5. 167 Jack Christopher
6. 162 Simplification
7. 159 Mo Donegal
8. 52 Taiba
9. 44 Nest
10. 39 Early Voting