Kentucky Derby champion Rich Strike had his routine daily exercise over the Belmont Park main track on Friday, galloping 1 1/2 miles over the sloppy going in his latest preparation for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 11.
Rich Strike took two turns around the Belmont paddock before heading through the tunnel and onto the main track. Guided by regular rider Gabriel Lagunes, who described the outing as “perfect,” Rich Strike was allowed to gallop at a stronger pace than his exercise on Thursday, stretching his legs and opening up his stride down the lane while maintaining a consistent pace.
The chestnut son of Keen Ice pricked his ears down the stretch before Lagunes began to ease him up just past the finish line.
“He was a lot happier today because we let him step out a bit,” said trainer Eric Reed. “You could see coming down the stretch he was much happier and never even got warm. That’s how you know his head is in the right place, and he loves his pony. We’ve got him a friend and that helps get him relaxed.
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“I do want to get him on a dry track for two or three days and watch how he moves and comes back from the gallops just to see if there’s any difference in how he handles the surface,” Reed added. “But I don’t think that would be the case. He’s ran well at Keeneland in a troubled trip and well on synthetic, which I’m sure is not his favorite track. So, I don’t think the surface will be too big of a deal.”
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Rich Strike has been accompanied to the track each morning by outrider Juan Galvez and his pony, Stormy. Prior to the Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike had never had an issue with being ponied on and off the track. But after he stunned the “Run for the Roses” at odds of 80-1, Rich Strike displayed a newfound feistiness towards the pony who greeted him in the gallop out.
Reed said having a pony that Rich Strike gets along with has helped his preparations for the Belmont Stakes.
“The first thing I wanted to do after he got settled in was find somebody to go with him and see if he’s going to try anything in a new place,” said Reed. “That’s so much better for him [to have a pony].”
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Rich Strike has had no issues with Big Sandy’s sweeping turns thus far thanks to his large frame and wide stride, something Reed said may prove beneficial on race day.
“That’s got to help him because he’s a big, long-striding horse. There’s not so much company out here,” said Reed. “At other tracks, there’s horses all around him at all times and every time he sees a horse, he wants to go catch it. This is a lot better for him. He had a great day today.”
Reed said he was pleased with Churchill Downs and Belmont Park for their accommodations throughout Rich Strike’s campaign.
“Keeping him healthy is all I’m worried about,” said Reed. “Churchill was so gracious and gave us the track to work on in between races. Belmont has just gone out of their way to do so much for us. When we got here, Frank Gabriel and Juan [Dominguez] were here at 1:00 in the morning and that says a lot. We’re real happy that it’s going smooth.”
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Rich Strike has been calm and happy since arriving at Belmont early Wednesday morning and shows no signs of anxiousness in his new surroundings, something Reed said is “just him.”
“He’s an 11:00 napper and is a very routine horse – he just takes care of himself,” said Reed. “Nothing seems to shake him up. The only thing I ever had shake him up was in New Orleans [Gun Runner] when things were just all out of whack [in his routine] going into that race. That’s why it horrified me to think of running him back in two weeks in the Preakness. We had to do what’s right for the horse. I think when we school him during the races a couple times next week, hopefully he’ll be as relaxed as he always is. All we have to do now is worry if he’ll get a good race and show us if he can do it.”
As expected with a Kentucky Derby winner, fans and media are frequent visitors at Reed’s barn. Rich Strike enjoys having the spotlight on him, looking at cameras and always observing alertly with his ears forward and head up.
“He’s a kind horse and he loves people,” Reed said. “They’re not supposed to know, but I think he knows he’s done something. He’s enjoying it. Some horses get nervous about a lot of people. Not him.”