Rich Strike Trains At Belmont: 'The Farther He Went The Better He Accepted The Pony' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Rich Strike Trains At Belmont: ‘The Farther He Went The Better He Accepted The Pony’

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

Rich Strike, the 80-1 upset winner of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, arrived in New York at 1 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday to prepare for the 154th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday, June 11, at Belmont Park.

Trained by Eric Reed for Rick Dawson's RED TR-Racing, Rich Strike shipped to New York by van from Kentucky and will be overseen by Reed for the duration of this stay as he readies for the “Test of the Champion” for 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown.

Rich Strike, with exercise rider Gabriel Lagunes up, visited Belmont's dirt training track at 9:30 a.m. with the accompaniment of outrider Juan Galvez and his pony Stormy, making two laps the wrong way round.

“He settled down a lot the second time round. A lot of that was trying to get him used to the pony. You could see the farther he went the better he accepted the pony,” Reed said. “I think by the end of the week they'll be good buddies and on race day he needs a buddy.

“He'll sleep the rest of the day. I know he's tired, he just doesn't show it,” Reed added.

Reed said Rich Strike will settle into a comfortable routine at Belmont going forward, schooling in the paddock in the morning before training on the main track.

“He's so routine oriented. We're in a new place, so we can set his routine here and in two days, he'll be fine,” Reed said.

Rich Strike breezed five-eighths solo in :59 seconds flat Monday afternoon on the main track in front of the Churchill Downs crowd, working swiftly under Lagunes and galloping out strong.

Reed said Rich Strike won't need to breeze again ahead of the Belmont Stakes.

“We might let him run down the lane Thursday or Friday,” Reed said. “He gallops faster than a lot of horses breeze. He really rolls around there. That will be up to Gabriel on Thursday or Friday, depending how he's doing. I just want him to get his footing on that track and watch how he moves and see how he handles it.”

Rich Strike, who made the “Run for the Roses” field following the late scratch of Ethereal Road, exited the outermost post 20 under Sonny Leon in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby and trailed 17 lengths behind the pacesetting Summer Is Tomorrow.

Leon maneuvered Rich Strike closer to contention approaching the final turn and took an inside route in upper stretch before angling outside Messier and taking aim to the inside of the leading pair of Epicenter and Zandon. Rich Strike, full of run, edged clear in the final strides to post a three-quarter length score over Epicenter.

Rich Strike, bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm, is by Keen Ice, who finished third in the 2015 Belmont Stakes and subsequently bested Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Grade 1 Travers that summer at Saratoga Race Course. The Kentucky Derby winner is out of the graded stakes winning Smart Strike mare Gold Strike – a Manitoba-bred, who won the 2005 Woodbine Oaks en route to Sovereign Award honors as Champion 3-Year-Old Filly in Canada.

Rich Strike was claimed for $30,000 from Calumet Farm and trainer Joe Sharp out of a 17 1/4-length maiden score in September at Churchill Downs and followed with a third-place finish in an optional-claimer in October at Keeneland ahead of a distant fifth in his stakes debut in the Gun Runner in December at Fair Grounds.

The chestnut colt made his next four starts in stakes company with his best results coming over synthetic with third-place finishes at Turfway Park in the one-mile Leonatus in January and the nine-furlong Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks in April in his final outing before the Derby.

Reed said the connections decided to skip the Grade 1 Preakness, won by Early Voting on May 21 at Pimlico Race Course, to give Rich Strike more time between starts.

“We didn't plan on the Preakness because we didn't plan on winning the Derby,” Reed said. “We just wanted to show at the Derby that we could compete at the Belmont and then he wins the Derby, so then we had to think about it. But I go back to the race at New Orleans [Gun Runner] and I know what happened there when he was out of routine and I knew the Preakness would be a disaster.

“All his races have to be planned out with distance and the type of track because there's some tracks where it's real difficult to close at a mile and a quarter, even,” Reed added. “Everything we do has to be thought out real good. His running style makes it hard to win any race and everyone expects him to win them all now.”

The connections' decision to skip the Preakness with the Kentucky Derby winner marked the first occasion since 1985 when Spend a Buck collected a $2 million bonus for traveling to Garden State to capture the Grade 3 Jersey Derby.

Other Derby winners to skip the Preakness include Count Turf, who finished seventh in the 1951 Belmont Stakes won by Counterpoint; and Gato Del Sol, who captured the 1982 Derby and waited for the Belmont Stakes, finishing second to Conquistador Cielo.

Grindstone [1996] and Country House [2019] never raced again following their Derby victories due to injury.

More recently, Authentic, the 2020 Derby winner, finished second in the Preakness and did not contest the Belmont. Last year, Medina Spirit crossed the wire as the Kentucky Derby winner and finished third in the Preakness. But Medina Spirit was subsequently disqualified from the Derby victory with Derby runner-up Mandaloun, who did not contest the Preakness or Belmont, placed first.

Reed said if Rich Strike continues to move forward their long-term target would be the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on August 27 at Saratoga Race Course.

“The owners always wanted to run him in the Travers and I think it's a good spot for him,” Reed said. “If all the horses are freshened and ready that could be a heck of a field in the Travers with Epicenter, Zandon, Early Voting and whoever comes out of this race. It could be a great, great race.”

The Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets is the focal point of the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which runs from Thursday, June 9 through Saturday, June 11, encompassing 17 total stakes, including eight Grade 1s on Belmont Stakes Day.

Belmont Stakes Day will include three Breeders' Cup “Win and You're In” qualifiers: the one-mile Grade 1, $1 million Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up [Dirt Mile]; the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps for older fillies and mares 4-years-old and up going 1 1/16 miles on the main track [Distaff]; and the Grade 1, $400,000 Jaipur for 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs on turf [Turf Sprint].

The blockbuster Belmont Stakes Day card will also feature the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Manhattan for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/4 miles on turf; the Grade 1, $500,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies going one mile; the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Just a Game for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up at one mile on the turf; the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun in a seven-furlong sprint over Big Sandy for 3-year-olds; and the Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational, a 1 1/2-mile test for 4-year-olds and up.

Tickets for the 2022 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival are available at https://www.belmontstakes.com/tickets.

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