KY. Derby Champ Rich Strike Faces Seasoned Vets in GII Lukas Classic

September 30, 2022

Art Collector, Hot Rod Charlie, Happy Saver among entries in BC Qualifier

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Top Grade I-winning older horses Art CollectorHot Rod Charlie and Happy Saver will clash with Kentucky Derby 148 hero Rich Strike in a stellar ninth renewal of the $500,000 Lukas Classic (Grade II) on Saturday at Churchill Downs. 

Named in honor of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic will go as Race 10 of 11 with a post time of 5:26 p.m. (all times Eastern). The Lukas Classic co-headlines Saturday’s program along with the $300,000 Ack Ack (GIII), a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Dirt Mile Division” race that will go as Race 9 at 4:55 p.m. The first race of the day is 12:45 p.m. 

Overall, the six entrants in this year’s Lukas Classic have amassed 30 wins with combined purse earnings of more than $12.4 million. The race annually serves as a steppingstone to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) to be held this year Nov. 5 at Keeneland. 

Derby winners returning to Churchill Downs have been rare in recent decades. Mandaloun, promoted to first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, finished fourth in this year’s Stephen Foster (GII). In 2018, the previous year’s Derby winner Always Dreaming concluded his career with a fifth-place finish in the Alysheba (GII). Mine That Bird, the 2009 upset winner, tried turf in the 2010 Firecracker (GII) but finished eighth. Giacomo, another big-price Derby winner in 2005, ran fourth in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs. 

A victory by RED-TR Racing’s Rich Strike in the Lukas Classic would make him the first Kentucky Derby winner to return to Churchill Downs and win since Silver Charm. The 1997 Derby winner took the 1998 Clark Handicap (GII) beneath the Twin Spires after runner-up finishes to Awesome Again in that year’s renewals of both the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). 

Rich Strike, the son of Keen Ice who scored an 80-1 shocking upset in the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) in May, finished an enigmatic sixth in this year’s Belmont Stakes (GI) but rebounded with a respectable fourth in the Travers (GI) behind EpicenterCyberknife and Zandon. Trained by Eric Reed, Rich Strike is a perfect 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs. His regular rider Sonny Leon, now based in south Florida, will be in the saddle from post No. 4. 

Hot Rod Charlie with Flavien Prat riding won the $1,000,000 Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pennsylvania on September 25, 2021. Photo By Nikki Sherman/EQUI-PHOTO

The top earner in this year’s Lukas Classic is Hot Rod Charlie. Campaigned by Roadrunner Racing (Greg Helm), Boat Racing (Patrick O’Neill), William Strass and Gainesway Thoroughbreds (Anthony Beck) and trained by Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie has earned a stout $5,251,200 with four victories from 17 starts. The 4-year-old son of Oxbow finished third behind Life is Good and Happy Saver in the $1 million Whitney (GI). Previously, Hot Rod Charlie finished second by 1 3⁄4 lengths to Country Grammer in the $12 million Dubai World Cup (GI). 

As a 3-year-old, Hot Rod Charlie was one of the country’s top sophomores. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI) and won the Pennsylvania Derby (GI). In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hot Rod Charlie was defeated just 4 1⁄2 lengths by last year’s Lukas Classic winner Knicks Go. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione has the call in the Lukas Classic and will break from post 5. 

One of the other top contenders in the Lukas Classic is Bruce Lunsford’s recent $1 million Charles Town Classic (GII) winner Art Collector. Trained by Bill Mott, Art Collector cruised to a 4 1⁄4-length victory in the Charles Town Classic as the heavy 1-2 favorite. 

Previously, the 5-year-old son of Bernardini was the 1 1⁄2-length victor of last year’s Woodward Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park. The Lukas Classic will be Art Collectors fourth start of his 2022 campaign. In February, Art Collector finished 12th in the $20 million Saudi Cup (GI). Mott brought Art Collector back to the races in early August where he defended his title in the Alydar Stakes. Jockey Luis Saez will be in town to ride from post 2. 

Happy Saver winning the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga. (NYRA/Coglianese)

The aforementioned Happy Saver will attempt to get his revenge from the Whitney on Hot Rod Charlie in the Lukas Classic. Owned by Wertheimer and Frere (Alain and Gerard Wertheimer) and trained by Todd Pletcher, Happy Saver has finished second in his last five outings – the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and Clark (GI) and this year’s Alysheba (GII), Metropolitan Handicap (GI) and the Whitney. 

A 5-year-old son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Happy Saver won the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) as a 3-year- old. Overall, the talented chestnut sports a record of 11-5-5-1 with $1,173,300 in purse earnings. 

Happy Saver will be ridden by John Velazquez from post 3. 

The Lukas Classic field is rounded out by Fern Circle Stables and Three Chimneys Farm’s three-time stakes winner King Fury and the Estate of James Coleman Jr.’s five-time winner Chess Chief

Lukas Classic GII Race 10 post 5:26 PM ET
1   King Fury                   Brian Hernandez Jr.       Kenny McPeek       15-1
2   Art Collector               Luis Saez                       Bill Mott                  2-1
3   Happy Saver              John Velazquez             Todd Pletcher         5/2
4   Rich Strike                 Sonny Leon                    Eric Reed               6-1
5   Hot Rod Charlie         Tyler Gaffalione              Doug O’Neill           8/5
6   Chess Chief               Rey Gutierrez                 Dallas Stewart.       20-1

Churchill Downs Press Release
Photo of Rich Strike by Coady Photography

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