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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, May 12, 2018 –I have watched the video of Derby-148 eight times now. The winner was overwhelming best on the day.

Rich Strike, who got into the field on the final morning minutes before entries closed, proved athletic enough to get through more than half the field from far back.

He was agile enough to tip out between rivals, then cut back inside. There were a dozen horses in front of him as he straightened away. And he sprinted passed every one of them.

The two legitimate favorites, Epicenter and Zandon, had the race decided between them now, only a question of which one with a sixteenth of a mile left to run.

The favorites had five lengths on Rich Strike, but he sprinted home in a manner uncommonly seen. His late run was nothing less than gob smacking.

Rich Strike sprinted home beneath the legendary spires to win the 148th Kentucky Derby. Sprinted!

And meet Sonny Leon, Jockey of the Week! He made the most of his chance of a lifetime in this equine lifetime of chance.

Rich Strike hit the finish post in full stride, drawing away from the fancied favorites with authority.

Need to find a head-on now. The little we saw of the gallop-out was stunning. There was no stop in him.

The trainer talked about the Belmont Stakes on the Kentucky Derby podium and I can understand why; his colt was daylight in front by the time he reached mid-clubhouse turn.

I know how Jack Buck must have felt. It’s hours later, and I still can’t believe what I just saw! Cocktails are in order now.

Where’s the Woodford Reserve?

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart May 8

After Rich Strike’s devastating run, on Sunday we decided to go back and review the video of his races we skipped pre-Derby since, after all, there was no way, right? And learn more about the trainer, too. We’ve never met Eric Reed.

At the barn Sunday morning, Reid, who on the day before he won the second graded stakes of his career and first Grade 1, talked about the horse he watched train last summer at Ellis Park before he ever ran.

“I liked him, Joe Sharp knows what he’s doing. The horse was four- or five-to-one, so the barn must have thought he could run, too,” said Reid on Jennie Rees’ video feed Sunday morning.

“I guess he didn’t like the grass… I thought they may be giving up on him too soon, so we claimed him. There were no shakes, we were the only ones in,” Reed added on the horse who finished last in his turf maiden-allowances debut.

After climbing early, Ricardo Santana brought him outside horses 3-4 wide down the backside before dropping back to last as the field entered the stretch. Santana merely rode him out through the lane when obviously beaten.

Next came the $30K maiden breaker on dirt, and he was awesome. With blinkers added and breaking a tad tardily from the pole position, he made an Arazi move along the fence into contention on the back side and waited at the turn until Adam Beschizza asked him in earnest.

Rich Strike took aim at the leader, passed him in a matter of strides, and suddenly was gone. He won in full flight by 17-1/4 lengths, finishing like he did when he ran through the wire Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Twenty-two days later, Reed entered him back in an optional-allowances at Keeneland and he finished third, beaten 3-1/2 lengths, giving Reed confidence that he had made a good claim.

Reed freshened the colt 78 days then entered him in four consecutive stakes, the first being the Gun Runner at Fair Grounds. Beneath Sonny Leon for the first time, he got dusted at 46-1 by a colt named Epicenter.

But the learning process had begun. Reed shipped him to Turfway Park, getting him fit with three straight races on the Tapeta surface.

In his next start Rich Strike improved sharply to finish third, then faced Tiz the Bomb twice, finishing third in his Derby prep, the Jack Ruby, a finish that put him in hailing distance of Churchill Downs.

The rest is now Derby lore.

“I asked Sonny if he would work with me, show some patience, because I thought we had something here. Sonny said ‘anything you want’. Sonny taught him everything, he was so patient, he trusted the horse and the horse trusted him.”

Of course, late running Rich Strike had help from scorched-earth fractions. How fast was the pace? Fast enough that after three-quarters of a mile, the first six Derby finishers came from 18th, 5th, 9th, 15th, 17th, and 19th.

The racing axiom is if you run fast early, you don’t run fast late. The empirical evidence in overwhelming. History will mark this as a demi-dawdling Derby, 2:02.61.

With a quarter-mile left to run, Rich Strike was 15th of 20. The final quarter-mile fraction was :25.65. Rich Strike made up approximately six lengths in the straight run to home. Rule of thumb, he ran his final quarter-mile in a racehorse :24.45.

Yes, the hot pace killed the speed and helped the ralliers, But even they must run through faster fractions than they are accustomed to as well. “Richey’s” late run was dazzling.

What racing witnessed yesterday was no fluke. People, horses, and statistics sometimes lie. But make no mistake; Rich Strike is a runner.

Hot Takes On a Hot-Paced Derby May 10

First, a historical reference that you have not read anywhere else, presumably. I was speaking with Tom Durkin on Monday, who has had some experience with the Kentucky Derby.

“Of all the Derbies I called, my research indicated that only Spend a Buck was able to withstood a pace as fast as :46.60,” said Durkin.

Well, how do you like them :45.36 apples?

According to Durkin standard time, the first seven runners at the half-mile marker; Summer Is Tomorrow, Crown Pride, Zozos, Messier, Taiba, Cyberknife and Charge It, had to be as good as Spend a Buck was on May 4, 1985.

This has to make his Horse Star card, currently selling for $1.34 on e-bay, quite the bargain.

Does all this mean that Epicenter, Mo Donegal, Simplification and Mo Donegal had no excuses? Of course not, each ran varying degrees of very good while flying well outside the danger zone. The pace aided Rich Strike, nevertheless he had to run down those four more fancied runners from 18th at the half.

Hot Takes on Derby Performances

Epicenter did everything right but win; Joel worked out a brilliant trip.

Zandon did everything well, too. He was pinballed a bit early on, then had a good trip as Prat was hot on Rosario’s tail. Bottom line: Zandon was a few strides short of staying 10 furlongs, no disgrace that.

Simplification at various points raced 3-wide, 5-wide and 7-wide–maybe wider than that. He acquitted himself very well. Gets Johnny for the Preakness as Jose Ortiz had prior commitment on Early Voting.

Mo Donegal: The rail position wasn’t an issue until the outside rushed inside. Irad was forced to snatch and grab to get him out into the clear. Say this, the long winded colt never fails to fire.

Tawny Port did hang late but ran better than generally expected. There may be something important in his future, and maybe not, but follow along until more is known.

Smile Happy’s love for Churchill Downs could not overcome his lack of bottom side pedigree. When are people going to begin identifying CD’s Jockey Club Stakes as a negative key race?

Tiz The Bomb ran sneaky good following a slow start, finishing with laudable interest. Best game is still something other than dirt.

Taiba was too much, too soon–and that’s not red-boarding. This was egotistically vengeful placement. Wait another two weeks beat them in the Preakness, then say it happened because you did the right thing by the horse. You get to successfully play the overrule card only once.

Crown Pride got a lot of social heat for racing on top of the suicidal place. Yes, we know the Japanese train differently and I like their stamina-mindful approach. But blowout in a 46 and change three days out? What was supposed to happen?

Charge It had it tough out there. Coupled with inexperience, it was too much, too soon for him as well. Only the true greats can pull that off.

Cyberknife was cooked by the pace and the wide trip. Lack of focus probably his biggest issue still. Talented, but needs time.

Pioneer of Medina also was compromised in this big, talented field. But this too was ambitious placement. Maintains his upside profile, however.

Rich Strike: Added Durkin: “I called a lot of races, Thoroughbreds and Standardbred, and I have not seen any horse, in any race, at any level, have as much post-race energy as this horse had. Really remarkable.”

Finally, a Bets ‘n Pieces Wrap of Derby Weekend

Last year, I believed that Juju’s Map had more potential as an Oaks-worthy three year old and would be her division’s; Secret Oath was not yet even a blip on the screen.

Adding first-Lasix, Juju’s Map was as impressive as any other comprehensive winner over the weekend. The connections were asked about any regrets for “skipping” the Oaks.

“We wanted to have a filly for summer racing” was the reply. Clearly, they have what they wanted.

The only thing that Bleecker Street has done wrong is a resume that lacks a Grade 1 win. As she improved her career slate to 6-for-6, it appears  that issue will be remedied before the calendar strikes 2023.

It’s impossible to ask Letruska to step aside, but Pauline’s Pearl stock is on the rise in taking the Grade 1 Latroienne. An improving four-year-old with continuing upside, the next stop is nine furlongs and, eventually, a meeting with the champ.

Olympiad proved once and for all that he high on a list of America’s best older horses. Four-year-old has won four straight, his second Grade 2 of the year, taking the Alysheba most impressively. The waters will get deeper and he just might be ready for that now.

Matareya announced herself as one of the leading contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and a championship title bid. She is undefeated at 3—she’ll get some weight in the championships—and wins by margins. She has yet to be seriously challenged this year.

Loved that Secret Oath turned out to be a “Coach Family” story. Todd Pletcher had just finished running second with Oaks favorite Nest, but waited to meet and greet his old boss post-Oaks interviews.

And, of course, Kairan McLaughlin, another Lukas disciple, is Luis Saez’ agent, adding another image to the Coach Family’s Oaks album. (Lukas has told Pimlico officials that his filly is “a little more than probable” for the Preakness).

If Ken McPeek decides to send him, dominant allowance winner Creative Minister will be an interesting addition to the Preakness lineup. If not, there’s always the Sir Barton…

Of Rich Strike we wrote that we cannot remember ever seeing any horse sprint home at the end of a two-turn race at the distance, ever.

Similarly, wasn’t Speak of the Devil’s turn of turf foot electric and powerful? It harkened us back to BC Mile memories of two great French fillies, Miesque and Goldikova. It appears the $2.2 million purchase price was worth it. Can’t wait to see her again. No comparisons, but anxious to see more. She was fun.

We’ve got one word for Jack Christopher: Haskell. That’s the summer goal, said Chad Brown. He beat a talented G2 Pat Day Mile lineup with authority, not easy after a 7-month layup following surgery. Healthy, undefeated colt rates to be in Eclipse championship conversation if present form holds at longer trips.

Obviously, the table was perfectly set for Obligatory for her first Grade 1 and, if it weren’t, she probably would have taken it, anyway. She showed a powerful kick to win the 7F Derby City Distaff. Juju’s Map just might need that weight concession after all.

Champion Jackie’s Warrior is remarkably fast and extremely consistent. He makes everything he does look easy. We’re sure Joel Rosario agrees; he rode with complete confidence throughout. As for historical sprinter references, he’s one of the ones.

The 14th race that ended the 10-hour race day was for three-year-old maiden allowances and was won by many in a certain-to-be key race by Strobe in 1:08.71, his last quarter-mile in :23.37. Has anyone seen my Horses to Watch list? I have a name to add.

All-sources handle on Derby Day was nearly $274 million, with $179 million bet on America’s Race. Both are records. The race total was aided by $8.3 million wagered from Japan, whose rules state they can bet on foreign races only if a Japanese horse participates. Thanks Crown Pride.

Friday was also a Kentucky Oaks record day in an amazing racing weekend. And isn’t good news a welcome change?

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27 Responses

  1. Just like most bettors of all types,never knew that Rich Strike was in.Never even bothered to check his PPs.He was not * supposed* to be in the race,But,just like many AE from the outside posts in muddy , wet tracks,he was overlooked,ignored and Won ! Would many of us ever used him in gimmicks ! Yes,maybe in the Super for 4 th ,along other long shots. One thing is for sure=Just as I dislike wasting my time and money betting in small fields,and Belmont had several today, with pitiful prices,to me,it does not make sense to have 20 horses in such races.This Ain’t no Fox hunt ! Ok,this horse won ,Congrats to the connections,but ,come on,how many times does this type of a crowded field prevent other horses to *run their race* ? Too many ! Even if half a dozen of them were out of it at the mile distance,just like being in a crowded bus or train,it may prevent others from stepping out,stretching out. *End well* remark always reminds me of Berner s statements,comments when he too,was Newsday -s handicapper. Now, these happy owners- trainers should give this equine athlete a break, avoiding the weakest link,the Preakness,and let us root for him at the Belmont distance,right along Donegal and some other horse. Do not forget,it was an over $ 4100 exacta because only a rare few had it.,just like a $300 mio Lotto win.Again,congrats,horse,jockey Leon and Lucky owners. Happy Mother s Day !

    1. The Derby is what it is a 20-horse race. The winner overcame all the obstacles, including the 20-hole and lots of traffic entering the stretch, every obstacle. Rich Strike was much the best on the day and he won. The second and third horses, the favorites, ran their races and ran very well. With the exception of the second unlikeliest result in the 148-year history of the Kentucky Derby, the race was formful. Logical contenders ran 2-3-4-5, no disgrace.

      1. Simplification was a Logical selection ?? Hmn.. anyway ,both Ortiz brothers had the better closers besides the winner,esp Donegal who from a bad inside post for a closer ran in and out and still came within a short distance from the top four. Sonny,or Sonny Leon brings up the question of Can a top,smart minor league jockey,with a good horse,complete and win against *big name* riders ? Yes,of course.Could be Leon -s biggest break,maybe one that he deserves. Any comments on Messier s slowing down the stretch ,and on some other competitors – excuses,reasons for not having a good race ?

        1. JGR, haven’t gotten around to the race performances yet, Like the ital says at the bottom, will be writing this for days, the Oaks, “Coach” et all, Jack Christopher, and other races, other horses. It’s great to have new folks for national coverage.

          Patience JGR… like Sonny Leon and Eric Reed.

          1. Jeff Ruby Stakes race by Rich Strike was somewhat similar to his unexpected KD win,chasing a slower pace,staying and gaining on the rail coming in third to Tiz the Bomb ,the 1: 48 and change winner on some synthetic rug , looking similar to my living room. In numbers,I made him fifth-sixth best closer ,without any other plus points to his credit. Could not include him in Any circumstance.Not in triples or exactas which,by the way, are the most crucial bets to me .As long as any test result comes in blank,they deserve the spoils, and it is even good for today’s racing climate,anyway.It keeps many long shot * Hopes Alive* !

  2. Do you know of any other horses who broke their maiden by 17 lengths at odds of 10 to 1 in an 11-horse race ?

    “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”
    — Marcellus in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act I.

    1. Not sure what point you’re making Dan re “something rotten in Denmark,” unless it was meant as a joke.

      No, can’t remember a 17-length winner at 10-1 breaking maiden but it’s probably happened before. The breeders gave up on this horse. Big props to the connections who snapped him up for $30K.

      Looks like they made a pretty good claim.

      1. Most impressive maiden breaking victory by a Derby winner that I can find is Funny Cide by 14 3/4 lengths at Belmont on Sept. 8, 2002. Then he won his next 2 races.

        Conjecture and gut feelings are a dime a dozen. I am not making any accusations, but to me, something does not seem right about yesterday.

        1. We are writing about that now before Mother’s Day dinner — Happy Mother’s Day y’all — hoping finishing that thought. You’ve heard of Derby week; we’ll be writing Oaks and Derby for, counting Sunday, the next three days…

          It was a very strange Derby, indeed, but I suspect nothing nefarious. Calling it a “sh_t happens” experience.

  3. I’ve watched 50 Kentucky Derbies and this by far is the most SHOCKING result ever. 80-1 this horse should have been 1000-1 based on his past performances against this field.

    Incredible effort and great story, indeed he was the best horse yesterday.

    1. You will get no argument from me, T.

      The well worn cliche, “that’s why they run the races,” applies here.

      It just happened to occur in the race the entire world watches.

  4. How did Rich Strike win the Kentucky Derby?

    Looking at the replay, the answer Is simple math.

    First half. 45.1
    Last half. 52.1

    Difference 35 lengths

    If you are trying to visualize what 35 lengths look like, it’s longer than the winning margin of Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont.

    What you saw in the 2022 Derby was an optical Illusion. It looked like the winner was flying down the stretch to win the Derby. The mathematical reality was that the horses chasing the fast fractions were completely exhausted.

    Nonetheless, a wonderful story
    about a horse, trainer and jockey that almost nobody gave a chance to. The trainer, Eric Reed lost 23 horses in a barn
    fire caused by lightning in 2016.

    Six years later, with good fortune on his side, lightning struck again. It’s called life, and the trainer has come full circle from devastation in 2016, through a pandemic in 2020, to win the Kentucky Derby in 2022. Quite a story.

    1. Good stuff Michael, but that’s what we said and explained why. Run fast early, can’t run fast late. Secretariat, Fager, Slew don’t grow on trees. Little old Rich Strike gave a herculean performance; at ance interesting and thrilling…

      1. Agree totally John.
        My favorite thoroughbred ever was Forego, who usually came from far out of it. Incredible horse that carried as much as 137 pounds winning multiple stakes in the 1970’s.

        There is nothing like watching a horse closing from far back . There are far too many days when you watch horses not being able to make up ground all across the country. Tracks that don’t favor speed usually produce bigger payoffs, more handle and more interest on their races.

        The Derby this year was extremely competitive along with an extremely contentious early pace, which made it difficult to handicap and scintillating to watch .

        End result
        Handle for the race up almost $27 million

        1. They had quite the two days, did CDI. Will have something on that, too. Lots of stuff from Derby weekend. Stay tuned, very full plate at the moment…

  5. Regarding “overwhelming best that day”, I wanted to share two comments exchanged yesterday on “thedirtyhorseclub” in an exchange between Gerard Hayes and myself. In reply and response to John Pricci’s comments that I had shared on website. There simply can be several views taken in any analysis after all factors on Derby 148 are considered. That’s what makes horseracing so interesting.

    Gerard commented “Interesting recap from John but I will respectfully disagree with his assertion that Rich Strike “was overwhelmingly best on the day”. Epicenter was close to a rapid pace and held off all bar one.Rich Strike took advantage of the pace.That’s what closers are expected to do.”

    And I commented in my reply “In the sense of how much ground was made up late, and in viewing Rich Strike clearly getting to the wire first, he simply did all that he needed to do in order to win. In the end, all factors considered including pace, I can agree with both you and John however.”

    “The pace was indeed the most critical aspect for Rich Strikes victory, but at the end of the day, RS was the first horse at the finish in race 12 on May 7 at CD. I will however still take the position, that Epicenter was in my view the overall best horse in the race. The pace simply made the chance of Epicenter winning that much more difficult. The table was simply set early for Rich Strikes to catch and overtake Epicenter. But that’s all part of racing.”

    “Thinking back to the Dr. Fager vs Damascus races come to mind right about now. Their contests most often were focused mostly on early pace. Damascus often ran with a rabbit in order to push Dr. Fager early. Many claimed it was unfair, but it was all within the rules. Pace makes the race.”

    “By the time the fall championship races arrive, I suspect we will see a more mature Epicenter prevail. I view Epicenter right now as the better horse, but I will keep an open mind.

    Overall or Overwhelming? Both views can be correct. – McD

    1. Right you are, McD. This year’s Derby was tough going in and tough coming out. Many divergent opinions have merit, there was just so much going on.

      Was Epicenter closest to the pace among the top finishers and still there are the end? Yes, ran too good to lose. But at the end of the day, he might have had the best trip of all, mitigating the pace angle somewhat.

      But it’s all good. A great entertaining renewal of America’s Race. Even before Rich Strike got there, the Epicenter v Zandon stretch show was pretty good, too!

  6. Last half 52.1 ? For me, another reason to lean on Mo Donegal at the Belmont Stakes after watching his race from his inside start to the wide finish after an erratic trip. To a lesser extent,two other horses IF they will enter in that same route. Adding first and last 1/4 numbers was my way of betting 7 F races when the Sports Eye was around . Still miss that Port Washington,L.I. tabloid,at any price ! Rip.

    1. Got my start sweeping out the back room at Sports Eye in the late 60s. Holds a place in my heart and miss it but can’t blame Jack Cohen for cashing out…

  7. Rich Strike was the beneficiary of a killing early pace. It used to happen more often before they changed the format for qualifying back in 2013 and speed types with no chance were in the race. To me, this was a throw back to those times and when a pace meltdown happens, chaos reigns. Just think of Giacomo in 2005.

    BUT the horse has to be ready to take advantage of it and Rich Strike was. His rider gave him a perfect ride when he switched inside for the stretch run. The others you may have expected to take advantage of the same pace found themselves 10 and 11 wide entering and failed to sustain their bids. Kudos to a horse who showed an affinity for the surface with that incredible maiden breaker and was improving at the right time. (And believe me, I had him nowhere in my selections before the race.)

  8. Agreed, Stephen, pace makes all races, especially Saturday’s.

    As I admitted in print, didn’t watch the video of his races. He was WAY to slow on figures to even hit the board! Having said that, it was perhaps the best late-kick stretch run I’ve ever seen: altering course before making a sustained sprint home with a worthy gallop-out.

    1. Thanks John.
      Here is another big Derby story that you should write about. I haven’t seen anything about this anywhere so here is the scoop.

      Anyone that bet on the Derby before the late scratch that inserted the eventual winner #21 into the race.

      Your ALL coverage in Race 12 Derby is for horses 1 through 20 amd does not include the winner #21. So those of you that used an ALL in the Derby for doubles , Pick three , Pick 4, , Pick 5 have no #21 in your ALL.

      A simple $38 ticket of a $2 exacta wheel using ALL with Epicenter does not have the # 21 as part of the ALL. Instead of getting back $4,000, you only get back a deuce for the late scratch . Same thing on the $29K Pick 3 and the $167K Pick 5.

      After the Breeders Cup inadvertent late scratch and this incredible oversight on the Derby wagers, it’s time to bring in wagering experts to offer their expertise. This can’t possibly be allowed to continue in our game that had its greatest two days of wagering in history.

      It’s time. Can we finally hire some GAMBLING savvy people to fix these problems?

  9. Anyone here who has worked around horses ? I would like some insight about Rich Strike’s behavior immediately after the race.

    1. So would I. RS clearly resented being tugged at and I thought the outrider grabbed him too soon, he was still going forward with energy at that point, slowing down, yes, but not yet pulled up completely by Leon. Further, Reed said Sunday morning that he was surprised at the attempted savaging, that the horse is “very kind.”

      1. Mike Tyson biting Evander Holifield`s{ Sp ?] ear came to mind. Maybe he just wanted more attention ….

  10. This is a Mine That Bird feel good story that could be a movie, like MTB. The announcer Colmus was as shocked as anybody if you listen to his call of the finish. My friend in The Player’s Club at Aqueduct got $5.20 to show on Epicenter, no complaints. He also said that Rich Strike will be nowhere in Preakness but that is one man’s opinion. I prefer to agree with Pricci who was bowled over by what he saw on Saturday. The late run was amazing and I am rooting for Rich Strike to win The Belmont with a late close like at Churchill Downs. The “all” button could’ve been used for the exacta and trifecta if you like that sort of thing. Epicenter and Zandon both ran well.

    1. Indeed, I was bowled over, but there are two elements that account for the victory, which takes nothing away from the colt’s talent: I don’t believe I will ever see a horse sprint as fast as he did in the final eighth-mile. It was, as stated earlier, highly uncommon.

      But two elements will be lacking in Baltimore. It is extremely unlikely that you’ll see anything resembling sub-22 and 45+ fractions. And the race is at Pimlico, not Churchill Downs, where RS is 2-for-2, a 17-1/4 length maiden breaker and extremely unlikely victory. He is definitely a Horse for that Course.

      Finally, however, this could be a rare animal. Spoke with Tom Durkin today, who has called, what, maybe 50,000 races in his career between Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds?

      “I have never seen any horse, in any race, have as much energy after a race as Rich Strike showed Saturday.”

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