July 14, 2024

Rich Strike ruled out of Preakness: ‘stay with our plan’ for Belmont

Rich Strike with Sonny Leon in the winner's circle and the Garland of Roses for the 148th Kentucky Derby (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

Five days after Rich Strike pulled an 80-1 shocker in the Kentucky Derby (G1), his connections offered a surprise on Thursday. Owner Rick Dawson of RED TR-Racing and trainer Eric Reed have decided to pass on the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the May 21 Preakness (G1) at Pimlico, and freshen the colt up for the June 11 Belmont S. (G1).

Dawson issued the following statement, once the news was first reported by Daily Racing Form, to explain the decision:

“Our original plan for Rich Strike was contingent on the Kentucky Derby; should we not run in the Derby we would point toward the Preakness, should we run in the Derby, subject to the race outcome and the condition of our horse, we would give him more recovery time and rest and run in the Belmont, or another race and stay on course to run with five or six weeks’ rest between races.

“Obviously, with our tremendous effort and win in the Derby it’s very, very tempting to alter our course and run in the Preakness at Pimlico, which would be a great honor for all our group. However, after much discussion and consideration with my trainer, Eric Reed, and a few others, we are going to stay with our plan of what’s best for Ritchie is what’s best for our group, and pass on running in the Preakness, and point toward the Belmont in approximately five weeks.

“We thank the wonderful Preakness and Pimlico folks that have reached out to us and very much appreciate the invite.

“We wish you all a great race!!!!”

The past two reigning Derby winners who skipped the Preakness, Country House (2019) and Grindstone (1996), were knocked out by physical issues. Country House came down with an illness and ended up never racing again, while Grindstone was retired with a chipped knee.

Rich Strike is the first healthy Derby winner since Spend a Buck (1985) to swerve the Preakness by design. Spend a Buck was chasing a $2 million bonus in the Jersey Derby (G3), which he won by a neck over Crème Fraiche.

Rich Strike’s plan resembles that of 1982 Derby hero Gato Del Sol. Himself a deep closer who went last to first as a 21.20-1 shot at Churchill Downs, Gato Del Sol awaited the Belmont where he was a distant second behind Conquistador Cielo.

Gato Del Sol’s trainer, the late Eddie Gregson, had a very similar rationale, as he commented to The Blood-Horse:

“The way I prepared the horse for the Derby, using the Blue Grass Stakes as a prep, dictates that we don’t go on to the Preakness. We knew going into the Derby—win, lose, or draw—that we wanted the Belmont to be his next major goal. There’s no reason to change that now.”

To put Gregson’s quote in context, Gato Del Sol had been busy going into the Derby. A neck second in the San Felipe H. (G2) on March 21, 1982, the gray was fourth in the April 4 Santa Anita Derby (G1), and 18 days later, he was runner-up in the Blue Grass (G1). Gato Del Sol wheeled back for the Kentucky Derby off nine days’ rest.

Rich Strike’s races have been spaced about a month apart all season, from his fifth in the Dec. 26 Gun Runner S. to his third in the Leonatus S. Jan 22., fourth in the John Battaglia Memorial on March 5, and third in the April 2 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) en route to the May 7 Derby.