NEW YORK (AP) — Trainer Eric Reed says if there is anyone to blame for Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike’s poor performance in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, just point the finger at him.
The veteran trainer who orchestrated one of the greatest upsets in Derby history when Rich Strike won at odds of 80-1 last month, said he switched racing tactics in the final jewel of the Triple Crown and it backfired.
Reed told jockey Sonny Leon to keep the 3-year-old colt off the rail — his favorite spot when racing — and then make one big move when the field of eight got near the stretch. He felt there was a danger the colt might be trapped on the inside.
The problem was Rich Strike didn’t like being in the middle of the track. The rail is his usual position in racing. When the field turned for home with eventual winner Mo Donegal in front by three lengths, Rich Strikenever threatened in his first start since the Derby. His owners skipped the Preakness.
“I guess I made a mistake because I should have let Sonny put him on the fence,” Reed said. “You watch the replay, his head is cocked to the right. He’s wanting down there and we’re trying to keep him in the middle of track. So he’s just not aggressive.”
Unlike the Derby, there was no massive closing kick on the rail and the Rick Dawson-owned colt finished sixth in the eight-horse field, almost 14 lengths behind the winner.
Reed said it’s a big difference when a horse is focused on getting to the rail instead of trying to win.
“We’ve got a nice horse,” Reed said. “ He does everything the right way. He’s a magnificent animal, but he’s a very routine horse. And I should probably have not tried to do what I did with him today.”
Dawson didn’t think there was any technical reason Rich Strike didn’t run well. It just wasn’t his day.
“He will always be the Kentucky Derby winner, they can’t take that away from us. We’re not done now.”
Reed and Dawson said the immediate plans are to point Rich Strike to run in the Travers at Saratoga this summer.
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