This year’s Kentucky Derby was a story for the ages. In a field touted for its talent and potential, many horses were heralded as possible Derby winners. There was Taiba, the undefeated yet untested winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Derby.
There was Mo Donegal, the fast-closing Grade I Wood Memorial winner. The morning line favorite was Zandon, a gritty winner of the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes, but he was overtaken in the betting by the classy Epicenter, who won the Grade II Louisiana Derby.
At that point, Rich Strike, who earned Derby points by placing third in the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks, could not be said to have been lost in the shuffle. Indeed, he wasn’t even in the shuffle at all. It was only when Ethereal Road scratched the day before the race that Rich Strike was even entered.
The pace was predicted to be hot, but few could have imagined just how fast the Japanese contingent of Crown Pride and Summer is Tomorrow would run. The fastest opening half-mile in Derby history set the stage for closer to come flying through.
Most expected to see Mo Donegal, Zandon, or Epicenter, who eventually finished 4th, 3rd, and 2nd respectively. All were passed by Rich Strike, the 81-1 beneficiary of a masterful ride by Sonny Leone.
The racing world was shocked. Rich Strike’s post-Derby season has, if anything, raised more questions than answers. His Belmont effort was dull, but he was a fast-closing fourth in the Grade I Travers Stakes and lost a hard-fought duel with top older horse Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade II Lukas Classic Stakes.
With the Breeders’ Cup Classic less than a month away, many punters are wondering: can Rich Strike shock us all again? You can check how he is placed in the odds here: twinspires.com/breeders-cup/odds
This year’s Breeders’ Cup races are being held at Keeneland, a racetrack in Lexington, Kentucky.
Lexington is, comparatively speaking, not too far from Louisville. That means that Keeneland is practically side by side with Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby.
For all their proximity, though, the tracks are fairly different. While Churchill Downs is known for wide turns and a very long stretch, Keeneland is the opposite. Many a talented horse has found himself struggling to navigate Keeneland’s tight turns, only to run out of stretch and hit the wire before truly being able to get going again.
Rich Strike has shown a profound preference for running along the inside rail. Keeneland’s configuration could make this pathway more difficult than usual for Rich Strike, as horses will be more likely to angling toward the rail.
Rich Strike is a deep closer. He begins his race toward the back of the pack, only advancing forward when his jockey signals him to begin overtaking the pacesetters.
It’s a sound strategy, but in order for a closer to be successful, the pace being set up front needs to be fast enough to tire out the horses who set it. As mentioned above, this was not a problem in the Kentucky Derby, as the pace was absolutely blistering.
However, the field that is shaping up for the Breeders’ Cup Classic appears, at first glance, to be more balanced. Rich Strike will need to work harder to make the running at the end, as the race is unlikely to fall into his lap.
There are potential champions, and then there are proven champions.
The Kentucky Derby is the United States’ most prestigious and well-known race, for sure. However, the horses that run in the Derby are young (the race is limited to three-year-olds) and relatively unproven. They have shown talent along the way, but there is more potential than achievement in the average Derby field.
Not so for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In the Classic, top three-year-olds run against the top older horses, often in a field composed of top-quality horses from multiple countries. In this year’s Classic, Rich Strike is likely to face not only old rivals Epicenter, Taiba, and Hot Rod Charlie, but also Grade I winners Life Is Good, Olympiad, Country Grammer, and of course, the talk of the racing world: Pacific Classic winner Flightline.
Could Rich Strike do what only three previous horses have done, and win the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year? It is certainly possible that he could join the ranks of Sunday Silence (1989), Unbridled (1990), and American Pharoah (2015). However, he has his work cut out for him, and it is likely that he will need to take a huge step forward to win.