Rich Strike 'More Relaxed' Through Light Gallop At Belmont Park - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Rich Strike ‘More Relaxed’ Through Light Gallop At Belmont Park

Rich Strike at Belmont Park with groom Jerry Dixon, Jr.

RED TR-Racing's Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike got his first look at the Belmont Park main track on Thursday, galloping 1 1/2 miles over the sloppy going with regular exercise rider Gabriel Lagunes in the irons. The son of Keen Ice arrived at Belmont early Wednesday morning for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 11.

“It seems like he's done everything a little bit better than I thought he would,” said trainer Eric Reed. “We actually took him out yesterday and we were going to give him one turn – the rider said he wanted to give him another, so he went twice on the [training] track and got used to the pony and made a friend there. Today, we took him to the main track. It was a little wet, so we just went one time around and we kind of made him go at our pace. He didn't care for that. His ears were back and he was wanting to go. So, tomorrow he'll get a chance to go out and train like normal.”

Rich Strike made his way through the paddock in tandem with outrider Juan Galvez and his pony, Stormy, who will accompany Rich Strike throughout his preparations leading up to the Belmont. The two quietly made a few laps around the walking path with other trainees behind them before heading through the tunnel and to the main track.

Lagunes trotted Rich Strike for a few strides over Big Sandy before asking him to extend to a light gallop for the 1 1/2-mile journey, keeping a tight hold of the energetic chestnut. Rich Strike kept an even tempo throughout, pinned his ears and wanted to do more down the lane, but stayed in hand to complete the exercise and exit the track through the chute on the first turn.

Lagunes noted that Rich Strike, who can be spirited in the mornings, has been noticeably more relaxed at Belmont.

“He's happy. I think he likes this track,” Lagunes said. “He was pretty fresh and was pulling a little, but he's more relaxed here than at Churchill Downs. There [at Churchill], there are a lot of horses and a lot of traffic and he gets a little stressed. But not here.”

Reed said Rich Strike appeared to be ready for more in his exercise.

“We never really try to make him go a certain pace except for today, and he didn't like that. He wants to go his [way],” said Reed. “It was his second day back and I wasn't sure if he's got some fatigue and just won't show it, so I didn't want to overdo it today. Tomorrow, we'll let him do his thing.”

With the track rated sloppy from overnight rain, Reed said he will know more about how Rich Strike handled the surface once he gallops over a fast going.

“He's done everything right. He's enjoying it,” Reed said. “It was a little wet today so I don't think we got a true feel of the track. Maybe tomorrow if it's dry then I'll get a chance to watch him and I think after a couple days I'll have a pretty good idea of how he's taking to the track.”

Rich Strike posted his final breeze in preparation for the Belmont on Monday at Churchill Downs where he breezed five furlongs in 59 seconds flat. He is not expected to breeze at Belmont, but will school in the paddock and gallop each day leading up to his run in the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion.”

Jeff Perrin, agent for Rich Strike's jockey Sonny Leon, said the rider will arrive in New York next Thursday evening with an eye towards participating on the Friday, June 9 card at Belmont.

“I'd like to get Sonny a couple of mounts Friday so he can get a feel for the track, so I've reached out to a couple trainers up there,” Perrin said. “He'll be watching many of the replays of previous Belmonts to see who did what and how it happened. And then he'll be studying every race over the next week at Belmont Park to get ready.”

Leon's only mount at a NYRA track came last year at Saratoga Race Course when he piloted Forewarned to a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Perrin said he's not too worried about Leon having a light schedule on Belmont Stakes Day as the rider had won just four races at Churchill Downs prior to the Kentucky Derby.

“Even on Derby day, the only race he rode was the Kentucky Derby,” Perrin said. “The dream was to draw in and run in the Kentucky Derby but the dream never went as far as to winning it, but the good Lord has different plans for us all.”

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