Rich Strike’s Belmont Stakes performance will determine if he’s a one-hit wonder

Rich Strike walks off the track after a training run Thursday in preparation for the 154th running of the Belmont Stakes.
Rich Strike walks off the track after a training run Thursday in preparation for the 154th running of the Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby winner has taken an atypical path to the Belmont Stakes, and still has his share of doubters.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)
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The final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown has but one question to answer: Will Rich Strike be forever lumped with A-ha, Dexys Midnight Runners and Norman Greenbaum or will he forever be saddled with another question, “What if only he had run in the Preakness?”

There is nothing typical about the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes in a normal year, as it quite possibly will be the only time a horse runs that distance on the dirt. But the path that Rich Strike took to getting to Elmont, N.Y., is more atypical.

It started when he was the last horse to get in the Kentucky Derby, minutes before the deadline to be eligible after Ethereal Road scratched from the race. Then, breaking from the far outside, he got the trip of a lifetime to win at 80-1 after a blistering pace that compromised at least half the field.


After winning the Kentucky Derby, he bucked tradition and skipped the Preakness Stakes two weeks later in order to run in the Belmont Stakes in five weeks. No Triple Crown.

We the People is the morning-line favorite to win the Belmont Stakes, followed by Mo Donegal and Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike.

June 7, 2022

He’s got his share of doubters, including the morning-line maker at Belmont who made him the third choice at 7-2 in the eight-horse race. Adding insult, he was only ranked third in this week’s National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. poll, behind Epicenter and Early Voting, both of whom are skipping the Belmont.

Again, this is the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

So, it’s a fair question to ask if — as with the artists behind “Take on Me,” “Come on Eileen,” and “Spirit in the Sky” — he’s a one-hit wonder.

“The question as to whether Rich Strike is more likely to be a one-hit wonder or the real deal is a fascinating one in that it could truly could go either way,” said racing historian Jon White, who does the morning line at Santa Anita and Del Mar.

“Maybe Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby win will prove to have been a fluke, especially since it’s clear that winning the race after being so far behind early was helped significantly by the torrid early pace. Maybe all the stars were aligned for Rich Strike on the first Saturday in May and he will never win another significant race.”


And this is where the “but” always comes in.

“But, I’m inclined to think it wasn’t a fluke,” White said. “Rich Strike is actually my pick to win the Belmont, though I was very tempted to go with [2-1 favorite] We the People. … But I think Rich Strike can get the job done in the Belmont. The pace looks like it will be moderate. If it is, I look for Rich Strike to be closer early — maybe even much closer — than he was in the Derby.”

Jockey Sonny Leon rides Rich Strike to victory in the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Even though intuitively a late-running horse should have an advantage in such a long race, history has not borne that out. Only five of the previous 91 winners of the race at 1½ miles have won being farther back than two lengths at the top of the stretch, according to

It’s a factor that Eric Reed, Rich Strike’s trainer, realizes.

“I think he’ll be a lot closer to the pace than anyone imagines,” Reed told the New York Racing Assn. communications staff. “He’s gotten smarter and more aggressive. The pace won’t be near what he’s used to running in any of his other races. I could be wrong because he’ll do whatever he wants, but something tells me he’s going to be more aggressive on his own for this race. I think he’s changed for the better.”

Reed, a longtime trainer not known nationally, has had to deal with the celebrity that comes with winning the Kentucky Derby.

Shortly after the win, it surfaced that a Twitter account that was said to belong to Reed responded to a post about how Vice President Kamala Harris got her job in a way that indicated sexual favors.

Eric Reed, right, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, speaks with groom Jerry Dixon Jr.
Eric Reed, right, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, speaks with groom Jerry Dixon Jr. in Rich Strike’s barn in Louisville, Ky., in May.
(Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)

Asked about it by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, he said: “I haven’t seen anything about it. Haven’t been told about it. I don’t know what’s going on out there. … So, there’s haters out there, and that’s about how I’m gonna leave something like that.”

Reed, who describes himself as a “Reagan conservative” on his Twitter handle, has a picture of former President Trump in his racing office and received a congratulatory call from Trump after winning the Kentucky Derby. There is no independent verification that Reed sent or knew about the tweet.

None of that has seemed to be a distraction this week in New York, which has moved on to what is considered a competitive race.

Reed has been praised by animal rights groups for putting the interest of his horse first and not running him two weeks later in the Preakness.

“We didn’t plan on the Preakness because we didn’t plan on winning the Derby,” Reed said. “We just wanted to show at the Derby that we could compete at the Belmont and then he wins the Derby, so then we had to think about it. But I go back to [his fifth-place finish in the Gun Runner at Fair Grounds] and I know what happened there when he was out of routine and I knew the Preakness would be a disaster.


Rich Strike, the longshot winner of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, will skip next week’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

May 12, 2022

“Everything we do has to be thought out real good. His running style makes it hard to win any race and everyone expects him to win them all now.”

Horse racing is a game of anticipation and guessing if you have the right formula to win.

Historian White tries to put Rich Strike’s Derby performance in perspective.

“Rich Strike beat 19 opponents that day,” he said. “Being able to succeed in such a big field is an indication to me that Rich Strike’s Derby performance was legit.”

If he wins Saturday, he’ll probably be a lock to win the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old male horse. And with that you can bury any talk of him being a one-hit wonder.