Can Rich Strike Regain His Heart?

June 27, 2024

Rich Strike and Sonny Leon victorious in the 2022 Kentucky Derby. (Coady Photography)

Rich Strike 2.0: Back in Training

Can the 2022 Kentucky Derby Champ make a comeback for his new trainer?

By Maribeth Kalinich

Can a red-hot trainer take an ice-cold horse to the finish line? Bill Mott, trainer of recent sizzling Ohio Derby winner Batten Down, thinks he can. Maybe. With time.

I mean, what are the odds? 80-1? Rich Strike already beat those odds to the amazement of Thoroughbred horse racing in the 2022 Kentucky Derby. 

Owner Richard Dawson believes his stallion still has a desire to be on the track. And his instincts seemed to be validated with Rich Strike’s recent works on the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga for his new trainer Mott.

Both Dawson and Mott understand that this is an exercise of time. And Rich Strike must have the heart to be there. 

“Naturally, our challenge would be to try and get him back to the best form that he’s shown,” Mott told BloodHorse. “If we can get him back to at least that, we should have some fun with him.”

Rich Strike in his first works at Saratoga for Mott. Click to watch on X.

“He looks pretty good, galloped him the last two days and he went quite well,” Mott told the Daily Racing. “He’s been cantering and galloping at the farm, but I’m sure we’re going to probably put a little more pressure on him than they have been.”

Once retired and withdrawn from the 2023 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale as a stallion prospect, Rich Strike burst into the racing spotlight with his dazzling Kentucky Derby victory but was uninspiring in the remainder of his career.

In my opinion, a horse must be inspired to be inspiring. The friction between former trainer Butch Reed and owner Dawson was probably not the positivity that could have built momentum for the flashy red grandson of Curlin.

Success changes the dynamics of a team and to have that success on the biggest stage in Thoroughbred racing must cause a paradigm shift.

The other obstacle to tackle for Mott is Rich Strike’s health and physical and well as mental condition. Cleared by Dr. Larry Bramlage after stem cell treatments for issues with his suspensory ligaments in his two front legs, the 5-year-old still has some healing to do both physically and psychologically. He’s had quite a few transitions recently being retired, withdrawn, un-retired and sent to a new trainer. 

But Mott seems to be on a forward trajectory fortified with positive energy. He may just have been the right choice to fulfill Rich Stakes potential.

“It’s a day at a time,” Mott said. “He’s had some issues to overcome, but he’s been given the proper amount of time. He’s had all the best veterinary care and the best early foundation training. Now we just pick it up and take it from there.”

So, why bring a horse back after a year off? Why when he seemed to have lost some heart after his stellar victory? 

Some stallions aren’t settled enough coming off the track to go into the shed. Some do need more time. And some stallions still need to build their portfolios to make them sellable.

It seems all involved are progressing with this project carefully assessing the time and requirements of rebuilding a champion. 

Will Rich Strike be the first Kentucky Derby winner since California Chrome to race at age five? Can he be an ambassador for older horses sticking around a little longer? Older stallions. 

Horse racing kind of needs a hero, a champion to cheer. We will carefully watch as this bonified champion blossoms back into a racehorse on his way to becoming a solid stallion.

Rich Strike has the pedigree credentials. Sort of. He has to break the spell. 

Sire Keen Ice beat Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers. There’s a memorable upset! Then Keen Ice fell flat for 22 months with only placing fourth and third, in the Breeders’ Cup Classics of 2015 and 2016.

It would take Keen Ice two years to get back to the winner’s circle in the Suburban Handicap, but he couldn’t quite reach that height again with second placings in the Whitney and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Prior to the Travers his only other win was his maiden at Churchill Downs in 24 starts.

Prior to his Kentucky Derby win Rich Strike had only one win with his maiden at Churchill Downs on second asking. Then the colt could only muster a treble of thirds although two in stakes. 

So, how did Rich Strike fare in his Travers effort? Bouncing out of a lackluster Belmont Stakes, the colt did give a game rally from behind, but no one was catching Epicenter in that Travers. Although the opening fractions were a bit pedestrian at 23.32 and 47.63, the Not This Time colt finished in a flourish 4-1/2 lengths ahead of the battling runners up in 2:00.79. Arrogate had set the mark at 1:59.36 in his Travers.

Rich Strike would get a little time until his epic (and controversial) battle in the Lukas Classic with Hot Rod Charlie at Churchill Downs. In a formidable field that included seasoned stakes winner King Fury and Pegasus Champ and Mott trainee Art Collector, Rich Strike put his heart on the track missing the win by a head. 

Keen Ice would go on to make 24 career starts. With a troubled end of his sophomore effort and uninspired beginning of his 4-year-old season including traveling to Meydan, the Curlin colt actually started to regain his form after a six-month layoff.

With a freshener in an allowance at Belmont where he went wide but got up for third, Keen Ice would go into the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic against two titans of racing—California Chrome and Arrogate—and give a good effort for third by a neck albeit 11-1/4 lengths back. 

Keen Ice came out of that race showing he had a lot of heart. And he had the desire to at the very least beat the horse next to him as he took second by a neck over Awesome Slew in the Harlan’s Holiday to wrap up his year.

Before we pick back up with Keen Ice let’s take a look at Rich Strike’s dam, Gold Strike whose sire was the amazing Smart Strike

The Ontario-bred son of the notorious pedigree-influencer Mr. Prospector won six of his eight starts and he did that consecutively with super high speed reflected by his Equibase Speed Figures (ESFs) as high at 122 in the 1996 Philip H. Iselin Handicap. 

Manitoba-bred Gold Strike started her career as Assiniboia Downs and missed on debut by a neck in a 4-1/2 furlongs sprint. Although she won her follow up, the Debutante, her speed figures were not notable.

After two months to mature Harlequin Ranches’ Gold Strike came back winning the Buffalo by 15-3/4 lengths boosting her speed by 20 points. 

After a seven-month layoff the filly would move to Woodbine for trainer Reade Baker to kick off her three-year-old campaign placing second in the Star Shoot followed by a wicked victory in the 1-1/16 miles Grade 3, Selene by 5-3/4 lengths with a 101 ESF. 

Gold Strike closed out her career with consecutive stakes wins including the Woodbine Oaks, a Grade 3 second place, and a fourth in the Hill ’n’ Dale after scoring a third in the Queen’s Plate. 

This filly had heart on the track. She could go the distance and with good speed.

Meanwhile, Keen Ice was about to kick off his 5-year-old campaign with a monumental task. Run against Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup. Arrogate would set the new and still standing track record for 1-1/8 miles at 1:46.83. Keen Ice would finish a semi-respectable fourth although he was pretty much out of it at six furlongs.

After another pointless trip to Meydan Keen Ice would show his heart scoring the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont followed up with seconds in the Grade 1, Whitney at Saratoga and the Grade 1, Jockey Club Gold Cup back at Belmont, both with triple-digit ESFs.

Rich Strike pedigree indicates he inherited heart. And, if he lives up to his pedigree, he can make an impact as a 5-year-old.

Rich Strike (outside) put up a righteous duel with Hot Rod Charlie in the 2022 Lukas Classic. (Coady Photography)

But who will be Rich Strike’s competition as an older horse? Can he take on more seasoned competition and call on his heart to get him through? Has he psychologically matured with a competitive edge? His owner Dawson thinks so as does Bill Mott. Where will Mott spot him first? Rich Strike seems to have an affinity for Churchill Downs. But Churchill is wrapping up for the Spring/Summer Meet and the next stakes that might suit the stallion is the Louisville Thoroughbred Society Stakes on September 14.

I think it’s safe to say we will see Rich Strike get a tune up in a Saratoga allowance race perhaps in a month or so. The results will determine the next move.

With a lot of summer stakes all over the east to choose from I keep coming back to the Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park August 17 at 1-1/16 miles. 

While Saratoga offers great stakes action many are not for older horses, restricted, state-bred or on the turf.

Could the 2022 Derby champ swing down to Charles Town for the million-dollar Grade 2, Classic at 1-1/4 miles? 

Or will he get a distance break and come back in the Grade 1 Forego going seven panels at Saratoga August 24?

His future competition? Take a look at the entries for the Stephen Foster. 

First Mission winning the Alysheba. Rich Strike finished fifth in his only race for 2023. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Godolphin’s powerful First Mission is going into the Foster with two consecutive graded stakes wins for trainer Brad Cox. 

Spendthrift Farm’s Louisiana Derby Champ Kingsbarns is coming off a victory in the Grade 3, Ben Ali for Todd Pletcher followed by a close second in the Grade 3, Pimlico Special behind Pyrenees, also entered in the Stephen Foster.

Both of the aforementioned have five wins in eight career starts. 

Disarm is also making a comeback with his Stephen Foster having won his first start in an allowance May 18 at Churchill Downs after an eight month layoff following his second in the Travers.

Skippylongstocking scoring the Oaklawn Handicap. (Coady Media)
Skippylongstocking scoring the Oaklawn Handicap. (Coady Media)

Consummate war horse Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking (should be long staying) will be making his 24th start in the Foster. And the Exaggerator colt is hot. After scoring the 2023 Charles Town Classic, he was third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt mile to repeating champion Cody’s Wish. 

Skippylongstocking had an unfortunate trip in the Pegasus chasing the pace three wide, he stopped nearing the far turn, was pulled up and walked off. 

He roared back with aplomb scoring the Grade 3, Challenger at Tampa Bay in early March and then, the big enchilada. Skippy took honors in the Grade 2, Oaklawn Handicap with a flourish for Saffie Joseph Jr.

Others who might challenge Rich Strike’s comeback include Senor Buscador and Hoist the Gold. And National Treasure is always lurking waiting to pounce on the finish line.

Rich Strike 2.0 … To be continued. 

Contributing Authors

MariBeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Past the Wire

Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Maribeth Kalinich grew up in a family with a love for horses, a passion for Thoroughbred horse racing and a taste for playing the ponies....

View Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Nice score King! @jonathanstettin Well played with the 4 singled on one ticket. 2 times! Big congrats.

Michael R. Snow (@theWynnDough) View testimonials



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