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Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike is the talk of Preakness

Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike is the talk of Preakness


This year’s Preakness Stakes has a different vibe about it. Gone is the excitement of the possibility of a Triple Crown winner. The talk is mostly about the only filly in the nine-horse field, trained by an 86-year-old racing legend … and, of course, the horse that didn’t win the Kentucky Derby but most still think is the best.

Rich Strike’s improbable win in the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby will surely come up in the discussion for the biggest sports surprises in recent memory. Not as surprising, but still eyebrow raising, is the Derby winner skipping the Preakness.

It has happened 11 times since the current Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes order was established in 1932. The last time a Derby winner skipped the Preakness was 2019 when Country House was sick, and never raced again. This time it was the decision of the owner to save the horse for the Belmont.

Still, almost two weeks later, discussion around the barns turns to the same recurring question: How did an 80-1 longshot win the Kentucky Derby?

The answer is much simpler than you might think … or is it?

“The horses up front basically destroyed any horses within two lengths of the lead,” said Craig Fravel, chief executive of 1st/Racing, formerly the Stronach Group, which puts on the Preakness. “He had an amazing run and clearly he didn’t get used up early. He was the only one that had that much energy left at the end.”

It’s a common theory that Crown Pride and Summer Is Tomorrow, first and second in the UAE Derby, ran much too fast through the beginning of the race and brought with them some of the better pace-setting horses. The first quarter-mile was run in 21.78 seconds and the half-mile in 45.36 seconds, which would be very fast for a six-furlong race, never mind 10 furlongs (1¼ miles).

“It just changed the whole complexion of the race,” said trainer Tim Yakteen, who saddled Messier in the Derby and will run Armagnac in the Preakness. “Everybody sort of got pulled up to that pace. The pace affected the outcome of the race. It set up well for some of those horses to have the trip that the winner did.”

Hall of fame trainer Wayne Lukas, who at 86 has seen his share of horse races, doesn’t see it as simple.

“Normally, I could have a comment on and make some sense of it, but I can’t make any sense of that one,” Lukas said on the 80-1 winner. “This one was off the wall. Granted, he had a perfect trip, a beautiful ride, maybe a pace that was too hot for the horses that figured, but even then it’s hard to understand what happened. I have no answer to that. It was unreal.”

Lukas is not afraid to try different things and has Secret Oath, a filly, in Saturday’s race. A filly has won the Preakness six times in its 146-year history. Secret Oath won the Kentucky Oaks for fillies on the Friday before the Derby and finished third in the Arkansas Derby against males while enduring a bad trip.

Horse trainer Wayne Lukas, right, rides atop Riff as he helps exercise rider Oscar Quevedo and Preakness entrant Secret Oath off the track after a morning workout May 18 at Pimlico Race Course.

(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Lukas also helped Rich Strike win the Derby … sort of. It took Lukas scratching Ethereal Road the day before the Derby to allow the winner into the race as an “also eligible.”

“I apologized to [trainer] Steve Asmussen and said, ‘I cost you the Derby,’ ” Lukas said. “Obviously if you had looked at the [past performances of Rich Strike] you would have said, ‘Enjoy the day,’ ”

Asmussen was set to win his first Kentucky Derby, after 23 straight losses, with Epicenter, who looked destined to win until Rich Strike barreled past him in late stretch.

“The only way I can explain it, is it just wasn’t meant to be,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi, who was attending to Asmussen’s barn while the trainer went to a nearby horse sale. “I don’t think anyone saw those fractions coming the first three-quarters of a mile. The race fell apart a little bit as it should have. It is what it is. If you don’t learn to turn the page in this game, you’re going to be upset a lot and have a lot of sleepless nights.”

Epicenter is also running in the Preakness and is the 6-5 morning-line favorite.

There is little doubt that Rich Strike’s win did get a lot of mainstream interest.

“The Derby is the one event in this sport — and we hope the Preakness is a close second — that captures the general interest of the public,” racetrack executive Fravel said. “It’s like in baseball when people were getting tired of the Yankees winning all the time, or at least they used to but not of late. There is the notion that someone else has a shot, someone relatively unknown, not prominent players.

“I think it invigorates things in multiple ways, not just fan interest, but when people are at the sales and looking to buy a horse. This is a game of hopes and dreams. If they think they have a realistic hope or dream to getting to that spot and that it’s not always [Bob] Baffert, [Todd] Pletcher, Asmussen or the usual leadership group, then I think it’s great for everybody.”

And, everyone also agrees, that the buzz at Pimlico Race Course would be a lot higher this week if that 80-1 horse were here.





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