SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Trainer Eric Reed will be starting his first runner in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, sending out RED TR-Racing’s Rich Strike for his run at another top level victory after shocking the world with his 80-1 rail-skimming victory in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby this May.
“Who would have ever thought I’d be in the Travers? Not me,” Reed said, with a laugh. “I’m glad to be here and I hope ‘Richie’ runs his normal race, because win, lose or draw, everybody will respect him.”
Rich Strike made his final preparations on Friday morning over Saratoga’s main track.
“He’s doing really good,” Reed said. “Today was his last day on the track and he was real happy, bucking and playing on the way back. We just galloped him a mile and a quarter, and for him, that’s a real light day. He’s ready. He just has to keep his composure tomorrow and he’ll try to do the impossible again.”
Normally, the winner of the “Run for the Roses” would be at the forefront of the conversation in any race, but Rich Strike faces the unusual scenario of flying somewhat under the radar in a loaded Runhappy Travers field that includes formidable Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter and Grade 1 Haskell Invitational winner Cyberknife.
The betting public has turned their attention elsewhere after Rich Strike, 10-1 on the morning line for the Runhappy Travers, ran a disappointing sixth-of-8 in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets in June. There, he stayed to the outside of rivals instead of an inside trip like the Kentucky Derby and never threatened, fighting with jockey Sonny Leon for much of the 1 1/2 miles and wanting to maneuver towards the rail.
Although he enters from a distant effort in the Belmont, Rich Strike displayed his talent and heart in the Kentucky Derby when he broke from the outermost post 20 and made his way to inside position under expert handling from Leon. He eventually worked his way through traffic down the stretch and was forced to quickly angle to the outside of a tiring Messier before coming away with the three-quarter-length victory over Travers favorites Epicenter, Zandon and a well-beaten Cyberknife.
Reed said he hopes that the Travers will change peoples’ minds about Rich Strike and that he won’t be seen as a one-time wonder going forward.
“It just bothers me because everybody said that the Belmont isn’t for horses like him and doesn’t play good for horses like him, and then he runs like they said and they say, ‘see, he’s no good,’” Reed explained. “He’s got to have everything go right, but he can do it – he’s already done it and did it easily. He had trouble in the stretch of the Derby and had to wait quite a while in the turn. [But] I know Epicenter is on his game and [trainer] Steve [Asmussen] wants it bad.”
Reed, a longtime horseman with nearly 1,500 wins on his resume, said winning the Travers isn’t about him, but about the charismatic son of Keen Ice who has taken him to the heights that all trainers dream of.
“I want it for him. Just to solidify his place, and if he won, I’m sure it would give him a shot at the 3-year-old title,” said Reed. “I want everything the horse can have. For me, it would be fun and great, but it’s always been about ‘Richie’ for me. It sets a place in history. He’s already got that, but maybe he’ll finally get some respect from people. If he comes running down the stretch like he has done in every other race this year other than the Belmont, that’s all I ask of him.”
Rich Strike will emerge from post 2 with Leon in the irons again.
NYRA Press Office
Main photo: Rich Strike paddock schooling at Saratoga on August 25th (Janet Garaguso)