LOUISVILLE, Ky.— Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike is back at Churchill Downs and trainer Eric Reed is hoping his prized colt will notch a third-career victory beneath the historic Twin Spires in Saturday’s $500,000 Lukas Classic (Grade II).
“Every time he comes to Churchill he’s ready for game time,” said Reed, who regularly ships the Kentucky Derby winner 85 miles west from his home base at the Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, Ky. to Churchill Downs. “It seems like every time we’ve run him things are always difficult. In the Derby, which is a hard enough race itself, he had to break from the far outside post. Now, we’re in the Lukas Classic and there are some really top, hard-knocking older horses in the field. I just feel like he dropped out of college a year early and now is going to the NFL and he’s (playing the part of) Tom Brady who’s not playing a team like the Falcons. He’s going to find out what it’s all about and I do think he’s up for it. He’s going to show up and run really good. If he runs really good that will give us a lot more options. I don’t think he’ll disappoint at all.”
Rich Strike will become only the second horse in this year’s Derby field to face older horses and the first to do so in a stakes event. Happy Jack, who finished 14th in the Derby, was third in an allowance event in late July at Ellis Park.
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).
“(Owner) Rick (Dawson) has always been like me and we do whatever is best for this horse. We’re not about the fame or glory or money – we just want to do what’s best for him,” Reed said. “That makes my job really easy. There’s been times after the Derby we’ve been recruited to different races or had pressure from the media and even friends to run in different spots. I think Rick has handled it tremendously well for an owner who’s never been in this type of situation. He calls me and asks, ‘Do you think this could work for the horse?’ And we both decide together. Rick is a big part of why this horse is where he is.”
Rich Strike will be reunited with his regular rider Sonny Leon in the Lukas Classic and break from post No. 4 at odds of 6-1. The Kentucky Derby winner will school in the Churchill Downs paddock Thursday evening during the races. He’ll walkover
with the horses for Race 2 and be in the paddock from approximately 5:10-5:30 p.m.
The 8-5 morning line favorite in the 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 ¾ 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 ½ 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.
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 stepping stone to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) to be held this year Nov. 5 at Keeneland.
Here is the complete field for the Lukas Classic from the rail out (with jockey, trainer and morning line odds): King Fury (Brian Hernandez Jr., Kenny McPeek, 15-1); Art Collector (Luis Saez, Bill Mott, 2-1); Happy Saver (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher, 5-2); Rich Strike (Leon, Reed, 6-1); Hot Rod Charlie (Gaffalione, O’Neill, 8-5); and Chess Chief (Rey Gutierrez, Dallas Stewart, 20-1).
Churchill Downs Press Release
Photo: Rich Strike wins the Kentucky Derby (Coady Photography)
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