Kentucky Derby 148 was one for the ages. Even if you, like so many, had tickets keying basically everyone except Rich Strike, you couldn’t help but cheer on this unknown little chestnut as he zipped through on the rail, masterfully guided by equally little-known jockey Sonny Leon. You laughed when you realised that the winner had only been drawn into the Derby on the day before the race.
You marveled at how composed trainer Eric Reed was, in spite of Rich Strike gaining Reed only his second graded stakes victory ever. You may have even shed a tear as you heard how only a few years ago, Reed nearly lost everything he had- including 23 horses- in a terrible barn fire.
So, when all of that subsided, you wondered: what about the Preakness? Could Rich Strike “strike” again?
The Preakness, while an incredibly historic and prestigious race, is far different from the Kentucky Derby. The race is 1/16th of a mile shorter, but perhaps more importantly, Pimlico (the home of the Preakness) is constructed in such a way that the turns are much tighter, and the stretch much shorter, than what is found at Churchill Downs (the home of the Kentucky Derby). A jockey needs to keep these factors in mind when planning exactly when and where to position his horse.
The Preakness also caps entries at fourteen horses, unlike the Kentucky Derby, which allows for twenty. Rarely is there much argument about entry, as many of the horses who were found wanting in Louisville choose not to contest the Preakness, pointing instead for the Belmont or non-Triple-Crown race targets? The race is usually much cleaner overall, unlike the insanity of the Kentucky Derby “cavalry charge.”
History Repeats Itself
While Rich Strike’s (and Sonny Leon’s) performance was a shock, it was not exactly unprecedented. Twice in the last twenty years, a remarkably similar Derby took place: leading contenders got caught up in a freakishly hot pace, setting up for an unheralded closer to sweep through at the last minute and leave everyone’s jaws on the floor.
Let’s compare it with past Preakness Stakes winners. In 2005, jockey Mike Smith powered through on the outside upon 50-1 shot Giacomo, a son of Holy Bull whose Derby prep was a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. Four years later, Calvin Borel swept through on the rail while riding 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, a gelded son of Birdstone who had been Canada’s Sovereign Award Winner as a two-year-old but had failed to live up to his expectations thus far at three.
Both horses entered their respective Preakness, and although both horses hit the board in the race, neither won. In the 2005 Preakness, Kentucky Derby third-place-finisher Afleet Alex nearly went down in the stretch after clipping heels, but managed to right himself and go on to win decisively; Giacomo closed to get third.
Mine That Bird nearly won the Preakness in 2009, but was unable to pass the eventual Horse of the Year, the filly Rachel Alexandra. Two weeks prior, Rachel Alexandra had been favored in the Kentucky Oaks and absolutely destroyed her field, winning by over 20 lengths.
So can Rich Strike win the Preakness? A lot depends on whether or not certain key speed horses enter, and what the pace scenario may look like. In both 2005 and 2009, the Kentucky Derby pace was electrifyingly fast, while the splits in the Preakness were quick, but not surprisingly so. Therefore, it is unlikely that Rich Strike will get the same pace setup in the Preakness that he got in the Derby, though it is entirely likely that his form will hold long enough for him to run well at Pimlico. Many trainers have yet to make their final decisions about Preakness entry, though Rich Strike himself is said to have come out of the race in fine condition and is presumed to be headed to Pimlico.