There will be no Triple Crown champion this year after the owner of Kentucky Derby champion horse Rich Strike announced Thursday that his foal will skip the Preakness Stakes and run in the Belmont Stakes instead.
Rick Dawson said Rich Strike emerged from the derby in good shape, but that he and trainer Eric Reed had decided not to push the stallion into next Saturday’s Triple Crown second leg in Baltimore after only a two-week break, especially after the Victory in America’s most famous race (and a legion of fans) as an 80-1 shot.
Just the day before the race, the stallion didn’t even enter the Derby field when Ethereal Road scratched.
“Our original Rich Strike plan was dependent on the Kentucky Derby. If we weren’t going to compete in the derby, we would be pointing to the preakness,” Dawson said in a statement. “If we were to compete in the Derby, we would give him more recovery time depending on the outcome of the race and the condition of our horse.”
Dawson said one possible plan is to run the horse, nicknamed Ritchie, in the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 11, but definitely give him five to six weeks between races.
“Obviously, given our tremendous effort and our Derby win, it’s very, very tempting to change course and compete in Preakness at Pimlico, which would be a great honor for our entire group,” continued Dawson. “However, after much discussion and deliberation with my trainer Eric Reed and a few others, we’re going to stick with our plan of what’s best for Ritchie, what’s best for our group, and skip running at Preakness and Point towards Belmont roughly five weeks.”
In a statement, Reed said of the horse: “What matters most is what’s best for him. We hate the decision we had to make, but it was the right one.”
It is unusual for the Derby winner to skip the middle leg of the series and miss an opportunity to capture the Triple Crown by finishing first at the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont.
But Dawson and Reed had warned that sending Rich Strike to Baltimore was not a safe bet. At Churchill Downs, home of the Derby in Louisville, Kentucky, the Colt was at a course where he had previously won (by 17 lengths). The track caters to Rich Strike’s late closing style.
The Preakness is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby, and the Pimlico Race Course configuration features tighter turns and requires more agility.
There are also far fewer horses than the 20 that showed up in Louisville, and none are likely to show the same blistering early pace that complemented Rich Strike’s late turn. In the derby the colt caught Epicenter and Zandon who were tired after chasing the early leaders.
Rich Strike’s departure means Epicenter, who finished second in the Derby and is committed to the Preakness, is now the likely favorite to win the second jewel in the Triple Crown.
The mile-and-a-half long Belmont Stakes, with its big, sweeping turns, should help Rich Strike spin to the best of his ability, especially after a five-week hiatus.
At least Dawson and Reed are betting on it.
They proved clever when they set out to get Rich Strike into the derby, as did bettors who believed in the colt. Rich Strike paid $163.60. Only Donerail had a higher payout in 1913 at $184.90.
Still, it’s always disappointing for horse racing enthusiasts when there’s no Triple Crown offer on the table. And Rich Strike had a particularly compelling backstory that touched even those who aren’t fans of horse racing.
He was bought in a claim race for $30,000. The colt is the only horse Dawson has in training. Rich Strike driver Sonny Leon, a 32-year-old from Venezuela, also has working-class pedigree. He was the 11th-best rider in the nation last year, but his victories mostly came down to backwater trails in Ohio. Prior to the Derby he had never won a graded stakes race and Dawson, Reed and Leon were all making their Derby debuts.
In 2019, Country House became the first Kentucky Derby winner since Grindstone in 1996 to skip the second leg of the Triple Crown. Country House had finished second in the Derby but was promoted to first after race officials determined Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first, but was disqualified for interfering with several horses.
Bill Mott, who coached Country House, said the foal developed a cough. The Derby was the stallion’s last race. He is now a stallion in Kentucky.