By Laura Pugh
Photo: Coady Photography, Rich Strike, Kentucky Derby
Actually, that’s not all. He won the Kentucky Derby. He ran the race of his life, taking advantage of a perfect situation. Perfect pace, perfect ride, took advantage of everything and won the most prestigious race for 3-year-olds. No one can ever take that away from him.
However, acknowledging this does not mean that his victory was not a fluke.
Since the Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike has been given several opportunities to show that his Kentucky Derby victory was more than just the luck of everything falling into place. And every time, it showed that it was.
He was to relish the five weeks of rest and the 12-furlong Belmont, or so his relations said. Astute handicappers pointed out that he appeared to be a one-track horse and the closers did not have the best record in the race in history. Rich Strike finished sixth, well beaten. Connections said he didn’t like the song.
He returned to the Travers where he ran fourth at Epicenter. Although it was his best race numerically, he couldn’t get past the top horses in the field, Epicenter, Cyberknife and Zandon. He beat a very tired Early Voting that would soon retire and several types of strings in the second third.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic was more of the same. Passing tired and outmatched horses as they fail to make it past the grade of the terrain. His best race came at his home track, Churchill Downs, when he had another fast pace to chase against horses the older divisions have housed. Even then, partly due to his rider’s antics, he still couldn’t win.
The Clark Stakes should be the final nail in the coffin. His connections greedily drove him back in 20 days, despite their comments earlier in the year that he ran best with a month or two between starts. They no doubt believed his affinity for Churchill Downs would be enough to carry him to victory, but instead he floundered. The pace was soft and he failed to pass any horses, finishing dead last.
I understand. We all love the story of Cinderella, a rags-to-riches who overcomes the odds and reproduces, especially when they come from a small barn. But it’s time to stop pretending this colt is that story.
Rich Strike is a solid Grade 2 to Grade 3 horse. He is outclassed when up against the best in his division and will lose by more lengths more often than he will win. It’s time to accept that he’s more Mine That Bird than California Chrome.