May 9 (UPI) — The Churchill Downs backstretch still was in a bit of a daze Sunday, the morning after Rich Strike’s stunning upset victory in the Kentucky Derby.
The question wasn’t what happened or how. Everyone knew as soon as the race was over that the early leaders went way too fast, and the long shot, who only made it into the Run for the Roses a day earlier, was in just the right spot to take advantage.
The question, rather, was, “Now what?”
For trainer Eric Reed, who prepared Rich Strike for his 80-1 Derby win, the path is clear although not set in stone. Reed said he plans to work Rich Strike at least once at Churchill Downs before making a commitment to the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the May 21 Preakness at Pimlico.
“That’s probably the plan,” Reed said Sunday morning after reporting all well with the colt he claimed last fall for $30,000. “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.”
That said, it would be an unusual trainer or owner who declined to take a healthy Kentucky Derby winner along to the next step toward a Triple Crown.
Things are a little murkier for many of the rivals Rich Strike defeated under the Twin Spires.
The bluebloods who came up short in the Run for the Roses no longer have a Triple Crown chance. With the Triple Crown pressure off for them, the connections can take a bit of time to decide whether to go on to Pimlico or to rest up for a summer campaign.
The indecision was evident on the Churchill Downs backstretch.
As the field approached the sixteenth pole in the Derby, trainer Steve Asmussen thought his 0-for-23 streak in America’s most famous race was over as Epicenter took aim on the finish line. But then Rich Strike struck, sneaking through inside Epicenter for the shocker.
“We’ll just try to move forward,” said Asmussen, who has won more races than any other American trainer. He said he will discuss it with owner Ron Winchell “and figure out what we’re going to do next.”
Zandon, the morning-line favorite, finished third as his trainer, Chad Brown, also remained without a win in the Derby. “We had a really good trip but just weren’t able to get the job done,” Brown said.
Todd Pletcher, who saddled Mo Donegal to finish fifth, Charge it 17th and Pioneer of Medina 19th, indicated those colts won’t be stopping for any crab cakes on their way back to his summer base.
“They’re all doing well,” Pletcher said Sunday. “We’ll take a few days and have some conversations to figure out what’s next for them. But it’s likely they’ll be headed up to our stable in New York.”
And so went the litany of indecision — all of this recorded by the ace Kentucky Derby notes team assembled by Churchill Downs.
Brad Cox, whose three Derby starters got home seventh, 10th and 18th: “We’ll regroup and plan what’s next.”
Brian Lynch, whose Classic Causeway finished 11th: “We’ll get him rested and find a spot for his return.”
John Ortiz, sixth with Barber Road: “I think we’ll let him tell us where and when he wants to run.
The two foreign entries, Summer is Tomorrow and Crown Pride, were headed back to Dubai and Japan, respectively.
The few Derby also-rans holding out some immediate hope for soldiering on to Baltimore included Antonio Sano, whose Simplification finished fourth, and Tim Yakteen, who saddled Taiba to finish 12th.
Others, of course, eventually will opt for the Preakness, figuring there’s no way Rich Strike can do it again, so why not?
Greg Grier, assistant to trainer Kenny McPeek, succinctly summarized the general feeling as he reflected on Smile Happy and Tiz the Bomb, who finished eighth and ninth Saturday.
“It was a freaky race,” Grier said. “Who would have thought that horse would have won? But it’s the Derby and anything can happen.”