After it had finally sunk in that he had won the 2022 GI Kentucky Derby with an 80-1 shot named Rich Strike (Keen Ice) that no one gave a chance, trainer Eric Reed started looking forward to when he would have his next taste of glory. Five races and 364 days later, he’s still waiting. The year following the Derby has not been particularly kind to Rich Strike. He ran second in the GII Lukas Classic, but was out of the money in his four other starts. His 3-year-old campaign ended with a dull sixth-place finish in the GI Clark S. Nov. 25.
But a new year and a new race bring new opportunities and a clean slate. Rich Strike will make his 4-year-old debut Friday in the GII Alysheba S., a day shy of a year and at the same track where he stunned the racing world with his 3/4-length win in the Derby. There’s a lot of karma there, but karma isn’t going to get him into the winner’s circle. Reed knows this, but remains optimistic that Rich Strike will be competitive throughout the year in top-class races.
“He’s smarter and he’s stronger and he’s more mature,” Reed said. “He knows what’s going on. He’s turned out to be what we expected at four, stronger and smarter. He’s ready. Last year, he was running on adrenaline and raw talent. This year, he’s had the chance to mature out. He’s a better horse this year. I think he’ll run well in all his races and if he doesn’t, we will be disappointed.”
It’s not that he was terrible last year after the Derby. He just wasn’t good enough.
“Since the Derby, he ran well in every race except for the Belmont and I still say that was my fault,” Reed said. “In the Clark, he was sick and we had no knowledge of that beforehand. He always showed up. He was a head away from beating Hot Rod Charlie in the Lukas Classic and had he won, that would have ended a lot of the talk.”
Reed said the main problem Rich Strike will face this year is the same problem he faced last year. He has no early speed and can find himself in a hopeless position if the pace up front isn’t fast. His Derby win came after there was a pace meltdown in which they flew through early fractions of :21.78, :45.36 and 1:10.34.
“He’s not going to win a lot of races because of his running style,” Reed said. “Even when everything goes right, it’s hard for him to win because of the way he wants to run. We want him to do good and I think he will. I don’t know how many races he will win this year, but he’ll have to find a way to put himself into the races a little earlier to win.”
The Alysheba is run at a mile-and-a-sixteenth and Rich Strike probably needs more distance. He’ll also be facing a tough group of rivals. Art Collector (Bernardini) won the GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational, Last Samurai (Malibu Moon) has won a pair of graded stakes this year and West Will Power (Bernardini) is coming off a win in the GII New Orleans Classic. This may be the deepest group of older dirt males assembled so far this year. Rich Strike is 7-2 in the morning line, but that seems like an underlay.
“It’s his first start back,” Reed said. “I don’t have high expectations for a win, but it would be great if he did. We just need to get in the first start and get ready for his next start, the Stephen Foster. I think that’s where our season will really start to take off.”
In the meantime, Reed said he plans to enjoy the week and treasure the memories. He said he has the same crew back from last year and they are going to gather for a barbecue on Thursday. Despite Rich Strike’s losing streak, Reed is still focused on how great that accomplishment was one year ago.
“I do tend to relive it, probably a couple of times a week,” he said. “It’s one of those things that will never go away. You have days when you get frustrated and then you take a step back and think about the Derby and everything is good.”
Everything would be even better if Rich Strike were to win another race, preferably a big one. Reed will give him his chances this year. No excuses. Now he just needs to show that he’s good enough.
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