Back at Churchill Downswhere he etched his way into history earlier this year on the first Saturday in May, Rich-Strike will take on a short field of top older horses led by Hot Rod Charlie , Happy Saver and Art Collector Oct. 1 in the $500,000 Lukas Classic Stakes (G2). The Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) upsetter, Rich Strike is 2-for-2 beneath the Twin Spires.
“This is his first shot against these older horses that are pretty seasoned, but he’s doing awful good, and this will set us up for something in the next four-to-six weeks,” said trainer Eric Reed.
“Everybody that I see going in there is solid. It’s no easy race, and we would’ve liked to run in the (Sept. 24) Pennsylvania Derby (G1) but with the travel from New York to Kentucky…It would be such a quick turnaround, and ‘Richie’s not able to do that.”
The RED TR-Racing-owned 3-year-old, sixth in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) after the Derby, most recently ran fourth in the Aug. 27 Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Coursebeaten a nose and a neck in a blanket finish for the show with Cyberknife and Zandon . Leading division Epicenter was the clear-cut winner.
Reed says that he blames himself for the Colt’s poor performance in the Belmont and that waiting for the Travers to arrive was difficult.
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“Maturity from the Belmont showed up (in the Travers) because he did dig back in and come on,” Reed said. “If there were a couple steps past the wire he could’ve gotten second. The effort he put in got the respect back that I lost in the Belmont when I tried to get tricky with racing strategy.
“It was 10 weeks of torture for me waiting to show everybody that he wasn’t a fluke, that the Belmont was something I did wrong. I think in the Travers, he proved that.”
The son of Keen Ice faces a difficult challenge Saturday under regular rider Sonny Leon, facing five older rivals, three of them grade 1 winners.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector arrives from a 4 1/4-length victory in the Aug. 26 Charles Town Classic Stakes (G2) which was preceded by a two-length score in the Aug. 4 Alydar Stakes at the Spa.
Art Collector wins the Charles Town Classic Stakes at Charles Town Races
The 5-year-old son of Bernardini posted his first grade 1 win last October in the Woodward Stakes (G1). He has earned well over $2 million from a record of 10-1-0 from 19 starts.
Wertheimer and Brother’s Happy Saver, who took the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1), has yet to win again in graded company, but has performed at a high level against elite competition. He has been runner-up in his last five starts including the June 11 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap (G1) behind Flightline and the Aug. 6 Whitney Stakes (G1) behind Life Is Good last out.
The 5-year-old son of Super Saver is trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher and has earned $1,173,300 from a record of 5-5-1 from 11 starts.
Doug O’Neill trainee Hot Rod Charlie, who races for Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Strauss Bros Racing, and Gainesway Thoroughbreds, will look for his first victory since winning the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 Presented by the Longines Record (G2) in February at Meydan in Dubai.
The multiple graded stakes winner has earned $5,251,200 from 17 starts. Most recently, he was third in the Whitney behind Happy Saver.
His previous two starts included a runner-up finish in the June 18 Salvator Mile Stakes (G3) which came after a layoff from his Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) second.
Rounding out the field is 2021 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3) winner King Fury and Chess Chief who won the New Orleans Classic Stakes (G2) last year.
Despite the competition, Reed says he feels as if his sophomore colt has a good shot.
“It’s at his home track. It’s a solid group, and arguably some of these are fourth or fifth best older horses in the country,” Reed said. “He’s got his work cut out for him, but it sets us up good for his next start.
“I think this race will determine whether we end up in the Breeders’ Cup or not but it will set us up good for the Clark (Stakes, G1) afterwards, and that’s here on his home track shortly after (the Lukas Classic). That’s our plan unless he proves he can handle this group.”
Derby winners returning to Churchill Downs have been rare in recent decades. Mandaloon first upon the disqualification of Medina Spirit in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, finished fourth in this year’s Stephen Foster Stakes (G2). In 2018, the previous year’s Derby winner always dreaming concluded his career with a fifth-place finish in the Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet (G2). Mine That Bird the 2009 Derby upsetter, tried turf in the 2010 Firecracker Stakes (G2T), running eighth, then finished 10th in his final career start later that year in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill. Giacomo another longshot Derby winner in 2005, finished fourth in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill.
A victory by Rich Strike in the Lukas Classic would make him the first Kentucky Derby winner to return to Churchill Downs and score since Silver Charm. The 1997 Derby winner took the 1998 Clark beneath the Twin Spiers after seconds to Awesome Again in that year’s Stephen Foster and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Inputs: Lukas Classic S. (G2)
Churchill Downs, Saturday, October 01, 2022, Race 10
- Grade II
- 1 1/8m
- 3 y’s & ups
- 5:26 PM (local)