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Rich Strike will skip the Preakness Stakes, ending Triple Crown hopes

Rich Strike, with Sonny Leon aboard, won the Kentucky Derby earlier this month. (Jeff Roberson/AP Photo)
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Rich Strike, the implausible Kentucky Derby winner, will become only the second Derby champion this century to forgo the Preakness Stakes, owner Rick Dawson announced Thursday.

Instead of racing in Baltimore on May 21, trainer Eric Reed and Dawson will point Rich Strike toward the Belmont Stakes on June 11. The decision ended any chances for a Triple Crown, which were seen as uphill anyway given the modest history that lent charm to the colt’s Derby win.

“Our original plan for Rich Strike,” Dawson said in a statement Thursday, “was contingent on the [Kentucky] Derby. … Should we run in the Derby, subject to the race outcome [and] the condition of our horse, we would give him more recovery time [and] rest and run in the Belmont … and stay on course to run with 5 or 6 weeks rest between races.

“ … It’s very, very tempting to alter our course [and] run in the Preakness at Pimlico. … [But] we are going to stay with our plan of what’s best for [Rich Strike] is what’s best for our group, and pass on running in the Preakness.”

He concluded, “We wish you all a great race!!!!”

In comments from the post-Derby news conference and all through the week, Reed had made clear that he would value the well-being of the horse above all other factors. As Dawson pointed out during that news conference, Rich Strike had tended to race with layoffs of at least five weeks, which is the span of time between the Derby and the Belmont.

Rich Strike, an 80-1 shot, wins the Kentucky Derby in a stunner

“I don’t think we’ve ever raced in a shorter time period than five weeks’ rest, and some of them have been six and seven,” said Dawson, an Oklahoma businessman in the oil and gas industry who has never owned more than six horses — a small stable for a Derby winner. “I was a little anxious and I was thinking, ‘Well, if we got a great horse, maybe we ought to run in this race or that race.’ And Eric was incredibly calm and convincing. And, of course, you know, I mean, why have a trainer if you don’t listen to him?”

In Rich Strike’s seven-race run-up for a Derby for which he had not yet qualified by the outset of race week, the Kentucky-bred colt ran Aug. 15, Sept. 17, Oct. 9, Dec. 26, Jan. 22, March 5 and April 2. After Rich Strike ran no better than third across his previous five races, he startled the crowd at Churchill Downs, as well as TV viewers near and far, when he pipped Epicenter and Zandon at the end to win at 80-1, the second-biggest long shot to prevail in the 148-race Derby history. He had gained access to the race only Friday, when trainer D. Wayne Lukas’s Ethereal Road withdrew and left a slot available.

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“Let’s see how he is tomorrow,” Reed said Saturday night to a question about the Preakness that seemed so unexpected in the run-up that it drew laughter at the news conference. “But that’s obviously the spot we got to look at.”

This week, Reed told Sports Illustrated that he envisioned deciding Saturday, after a workout he had scheduled at Churchill Downs. “It’s going to be a tough, tough call,” Reed told SI. “ … He’s got to be 120 percent, not 100.” He also said: “I can’t do anything but what’s best for the horse. If we flop and he gets hurt, they’ll forget we were even there. I’ve got to remember it’s about him. If it starts being about us, that’s a problem.”

“He’s made the right moves so far,” Dawson said of Reed this past Saturday. “We’ll probably stay with that.”

For retired thoroughbreds, a Kentucky farm offers a serene final furlong

Mandaloun, the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, also missed the Preakness but did so as the Derby runner-up who would not become the Derby winner until February, when the disqualification of Medina Spirit after a positive drug test became official. (Medina Spirit did run in the Preakness, finishing third.) The only other horse this century to miss the Preakness right after winning the Derby was trainer Bill Mott’s Country House in 2019, a matter that caused less disappointment among horse racing fans because Country House had won the Derby after crossing the wire second, then rose to the win 22 minutes later with the disqualification of Maximum Security for interference.

Before Country House, the previous Derby winner not to race in the Preakness was Lukas-trained Grindstone, who won the 1996 Kentucky Derby, then retired when a bone chip was found in his knee in the days after.

This story has been updated.

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