The public workout that 80-1 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike had in the middle of the Memorial Day card at Churchill Downs was as much to get in some normal training as it was to shake off a case of nerves before he races June 11 in the
Not just for the horse.
“That was worse than my first born,” trainer Eric Reed told Horse Racing Nation
right after Rich Strike was clocked at 59.0 seconds, the fastest time for any of 11 five-furlong breezes around the main track Monday. “I was nervous.”
Maybe the second-longest shot ever to win a Derby had a few butterflies, too. Before he was put out to the track from the same barn he used before his unlikely triumph May 7, Rich Strike reared up on his hind legs. Then after his short walk along the outside rail to the top of the backstretch, he reared again.
“He was playing a little bit,” Reed said. “He’s just been like that since the Derby. It’s almost like he wants to show off.”
For a mare who caught his eye? For curiosity seekers? For having to roll out of the hay during what normally would be nap time to run around a track on an 88-degree day?
“Maybe he’s just getting to that alpha stage,” Reed said. “He is different – in a good way.”
Between the fifth and sixth races Monday, Rich Strike walked clockwise around the clubhouse turn, heard the cheers of a few thousand sunbaked fans in the homestretch, turned around and produced what Reed said was a relaxed workout.
“It looked like he was just cantering,” Reed said. “I knew the work would be quick, because (Sunday) was his best day galloping from him since the Derby. He was just as professional as he could be about everything. It fits about right on the program with a little over three weeks. He starts coming into himself.”
A Churchill Downs spokesman said Rich Strike was clocked in furlong splits of 11.8, 23.2 and 34.8 seconds with a six-furlong gallop-out to 1:12.0.
— Horse Racing Nation (@HR_Nation) May 30, 2022
Reed said the 3-year-old Keen Ice colt who was bought on a $30,000 claim last September by Rick Dawson’s RED TR-Racing might have been on his toes at times before he got into his workout rhythm. But by the time it was done, he thought Rich Strike was not as keyed up as he was when he breezed a half-mile in 47.2 seconds on May 21, the day he skipped the Preakness.
“He was real relaxed coming to the pole today,” Reed told a gathering of reporters that grew around the fence of Barn 17. “This was in the afternoon, so the track was going to be a little quicker than in the mornings. We expected the times that he went to be real similar to what he did. He was basically just in a gallop all the way around. We were surprised when we saw the final time.”
The only instructions Reed said he had for exercise rider Gabriel Lagunes were to ask for exactly as much from Rich Strike on Monday as he had nine days ago.
“We just didn’t want him to overdo it,” Reed said. “The big thing for Gabriel was to get him off of there relaxed and not let him get carried away. After the first three-eighths he settled in real nice.”
Every step Rich Strike has taken in the past week has made Reed feel more confident he made the right decision in not rushing back for the Preakness. Instead, he gave his colt a more normal rest before tackling the 1 1/2 miles that will face him at Belmont Park in 12 days.
“No matter the outcome of the Belmont, this was the right thing for him,” Reed said. “Mentally, it takes him time. Physically and energy wise, he’s ready. But if his mind’s not right, he’s not going to perform.
Reed said he plans to go Rich Strike to Long Island, NY, tomorrow with the expectation he will arrive at Belmont Park by 11 pm EDT. He has been assigned a stall in Barn 29, right near Man O’ War Drive.
“If we get there on time, and he takes the trip well, sometime Wednesday morning we’ll go out and give him one easy lap,” Reed said. “Just loosen him up and kind of get him so that the next day we can do regular training again.”
That just means gallops and jogs. No more breezes. Monday was the last one before the Belmont, after which Rich Strike will get a break before a late-summer program that Reed hoped would lead to the Aug. 28 running of the Travers (G1) at Saratoga.
By then maybe Reed will be used to all this attention, even if it means another public workout for a horse who has captured the attention of mainstream fans the way other Derby winners have not.
By the time he was surrounded by reporters Monday, Reed even tamped down his description of his pre-workout nerves.
“This was a whole lot more nervous than the Derby, I’ll tell you that,” he said with a laugh. “People won’t believe it, but it was. This was a big relief when he pulled up and he came home and everything was good.”
By then, Rich Strike was walking the shed row. On all fours. Not just his hind legs from him.