Rich Strike 'Looking Great' After Derby Shocker

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Rich Strike with trainer Eric Reed (second from right) and the rest of his team Sunday morningCoady Photography

RED TR-Racing's Rich Strike (Keen Ice) left Churchill Downs around 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday to head back to his main base at trainer Eric Reed's Mercury Equine Center in Lexington as a GI Kentucky Derby winner.

“I couldn't sleep last night,” Reed said after achieving his first Grade I victory and second graded victory in a career that began in 1985. “At four this morning I was wondering if this was real or if it was a dream. I got home and my kids and their friends were there with champagne. I finally told them at 2:30 I had to go up to bed. I just kept seeing him in my head come up the rail.”

As the longest shot on the board in a field of 20 horses at 80-1, Rich Strike took advantage of a crafty ride from Sonny Leon to charge past Epicenter (Not This Time) and Zandon (Upstart) in deep stretch to pull off the second biggest upset in Derby history with Donerail at 91-1 in 1913 serving as the biggest longshot winner.

Next on the agenda most likely will be Reed's first trip to Pimlico and a shot at the GI Preakness S. May 21.

“That's probably the plan,” said Reed, who indicated Rich Strike would return to Churchill Downs to work over the track before deciding on the colt's next start. “I'm not going to do a whole lot with him and I don't like to run back quick. You get one like this in a lifetime and you have to protect him.”

A 17 1/4-length victory in a $30,000 maiden claimer at Churchill Downs last September had served as the only win on Rich Strike's resume until Saturday. A fourth-place finish in the John Battaglia Memorial S. and a third in the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks gave Rich Strike 21 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and enough to land a spot on the also-eligible list when entries were taken Monday.

The defection of Ethereal Road seconds before scratch time Friday morning put Rich Strike in the starting gate.

“We were hoping and praying all week just trying to get there,” Reed said. “Then we went a step further than we could have dreamed.”

Despite breaking from post 20, Leon gave Rich Strike a ground-saving trip, immediately moving toward the inside behind a wall of horses shortly after the break and then cutting the corner at the top of the stretch.

“When I saw that move at the quarter pole, I told my dad [Herbert] that might get us on the board,” Reed said. “Then, I don't really remember what happened except my back gave out on me. I ended up on the ground before the horse even crossed the wire. All my friends and family just piled on top of me. He looks great this morning. He ate up everything last night and seems really good. He gains weight after every race and I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of him.”

As for Reed, it was a low-key night as he went back to Lexington where his wife Kay was overseeing the training center and 100 horses.

“My friends drank a lot but I didn't,” said Reed, who has horses entered this week at Horseshoe Indianapolis, Mountaineer and Belterra. “I was happy for my crew and so proud that they got to make the walk [over to the paddock for the Derby].”

Reed's story, coming back to win the Kentucky Derby with his first starter and a first-time Derby rider after a barn fire claimed 23 of his horses and all of his tack and equipment six years ago, is made for Hollywood. And if a movie could been made from this year's Run for the Roses, who would play Reed?

“Maybe Mark Wahlberg,” Reed said with a laugh. “He's short like me.”

One day removed from Epicenter's runner-up effort, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen was on the track alongside assistant Scott Blasi to continue their normal schedule of training. Epicenter exited the Derby in good order, according to the team.

“We'll just try and move forward. I haven't spoken with [owner] Ron [Winchell] yet but I will later and will figure out what we are going to do next,” Asmussen said.

Zandon was back at trainer Chad Brown's Barn 25 at Churchill Downs Sunday morning.

“We had a really good trip but just weren't able to get the job done,” Brown said.

Tami Bobo's Simplification (Not This Time) came out of his fourth-place effort “very well” according to trainer Antonio Sano.

“I was very happy with his race,” Sano said. “I am going to talk with the owner in the next two days and a make a decision on whether to go to the Preakness or to go home.”

Trainer Tim Yakteen was at Barn 37 Sunday morning to see how his two Derby colts–Messier (Empire Maker), who finished 15th, and Taiba (Gun Runner), who ran 12th–were doing the day after Kentucky Derby 148.

The report was good. Both 3-year-olds were none the worse for wear and would “live to fight another day.”

“My family [his wife, Millie Ball, and his two teenage sons] will be on a plane and headed back to California today,” Yakteen said. “I'm going to stick around for a while. There will have to be some decisions made in the next 48 hours about what's next for these two. Taiba is under consideration for the Preakness, but that call has yet to be determined.”

Reflecting on Messier's effort, he said, “I thought Johnny [Velazquez] rode a good race on Messier. I'm not sure, but maybe we have to consider distance limitations with him.”

In the case of Taiba, who was making only the third start of his career, Yakteen felt the horse was hindered by all the kickback he encountered, causing him to “climb some and be very uncomfortable.”

Also, he noted, “His lack of experience certainly could have played a role in the situation.”

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