Two Weeks To The Travers: Rich Strike, Reed Settle In To Life In Saratoga
August 19, 20223 min read
The lasting impression that many casual fans have of Rich Strike's Kentucky Derby experience is not his heart-stopping late drive to secure the upset victory, but his savaging of the pony horse that led him back to the winner's circle afterward.
Standing outside of the horse's stall at Saratoga Race Course on Tuesday morning, trainer Eric Reed said he has been working on a bit of image rehabilitation for the colt along with his training toward the summer and fall's big races, including a planned start in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes on Aug. 27.
“He's a playful horse, he's not a mean horse. He's a colt,” Reed said. “So, if you want to go up to him and pet him, sometimes he'll let you pet him, and sometimes he'll snip at you and play. He's not trying to hurt you, but he'll pinch you.
“So many people wanted to come see him after the Derby, and when they get there, the first thing they want to do is pet him,” the trainer continued. “He likes peppermints, so we gave him some peppermints, and I started playing with his tongue a little bit. For whatever reason, he'll stick his tongue out, and when you grab his tongue, it's like a sedative. You can put a 4-year-old kid up there and let him hug him, and he'll just stand there with his eyes closed, and let him do it. I've got him now where if I know someone wants to pet him, I'll mess around with him for a second, he'll stick his tongue out, and people can come up and get their pictures and pet him, and do the things they want to do without getting bit.”
Rich Strike has seen plenty of foot traffic since arriving in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. on Aug. 14, and occupying a stall in Dale Romans' barn, overlooking the track's far turn.
Reed and a team of five employees will remain in Saratoga with the Derby winner as he trains toward the Travers, which would be his first start since finishing fifth in the Belmont Stakes on June 11.
The trainer has gotten good at diversifying his horses' and staff's schedules. He currently has runners competing regularly at Belterra Park in Ohio, Mountaineer Park in West Virginia, Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania, and Ellis Park in Kentucky, all shuttling to and from his Mercury Training Center in Lexington, Ky., between efforts.
Even so, taking his “A-team” of horsemen out of that rotation, and reducing his own presence to remote access, over one horse in New York for two weeks has caused him to lean on his personnel more than he has in a while.
“My wife and and daughter, and the guys back home are going way beyond the call of duty, but they're holding the fort down,” Reed said. “They don't get the credit they deserve, because they win a lot of races when I'm not around. They run a lot of horses. They're saving me right now.”
With the Midwest operation in capable hands, Reed remained singularly focused on getting his star adjusted to his new surroundings, and preparing him for a tilt with many of the horses he toppled three months ago at Churchill Downs.
Part of that process will involve getting Rich Strike used to the deep Saratoga main track. Looking back on the colt's lackluster Belmont Stakes effort, Reed said Rich Strike never seemed to settle over the surface, so getting him acclimated to the Saratoga footing without running him into the ground will be a priority for himself and exercise rider Gabriel Lagunes, who also made the two-week trip to New York.
“We've got to make sure we don't overdo it and make him body sore,” Reed said. “That's what we're trying to do this first week, is try to get him accustomed to it, and not do a whole lot. His work Friday or Saturday will be an easy work. We don't want a :48, we want a :49 or :50, and just a good gallop out in 1:02 would be fine. Then, another light work in the week leading up to the race just to keep him happy, but I don't want to overdo it and get him muscle sore over the deep track.”
It's clear in conversation with Reed that the lackluster Belmont effort still weighs on him. The word “frustrated” came up frequently when discussing the race, mostly turned inward over his strategy to keep the horse off the rail.
Looking ahead to the Travers, Reed indicated that the horse and rider would largely control the playbook, hoping for some pace up front and a clean trip to make a late move.