Chicago Sun-Times

Racing’s focus turns to Pimlico

Rich Strike’s team considers options after Derby stunner


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rich Strike’s stunning Kentucky Derby upset has the sports world buzzing and led to a sleepless night of celebratio­n that Eric Reed was still recovering from Sunday morning.

The veteran trainer and everybody around him partied long after the 80-1 long shot pulled off a monumental feat Saturday. Once their heads clear, the next step will be to decide whether Rich Strike’s storybook journey continues at the 147th Preakness on May 21 in Baltimore.

“As long as he’s OK and after a week I know that it’s the right thing to do, we’ll do it,” Reed said Sunday morning at Churchill Downs. “I have to do what I’ve done from Day 1 with this horse, and that’s manage him and take care of him.”

Similar decisions await for some of the favorites Rich Strike chased down late with Sonny Leon aboard on the way to clocking 2:02.61 in the 1¼-mile Derby.

Though seeking redemption would be understand­able for runner-up Epicenter — the 4-1 favorite who was just a quarter-mile from giving Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his long-sought first Derby win — the two-week turnaround for the 1› miles at Pimlico Race Course is a concern.

Asmussen wants to give Epicenter’s owner, Ron Winchell, time to figure it out. His focus is the longterm future for the horse, whose margin behind Rich Strike and ahead of third-place Zandon was just three-quarters of a length each.

“That’s where our responsibi­lity lies now, how do we make him 3-year-old champion?” the trainer said. “He’s a very talented horse, has very good ability and just was second in the Derby. We need to map out a schedule that we think can make him the champion 3-year-old.”

Trainer Chad Brown was pleased with Zandon’s race but lamented not being able to win it. Todd Pletcher said his Derby trio of Mo Donegal, Charge It and Pioneer of Medina were “doing well” but likely headed back to New York after finishing out of contention.

Tim Yakteen, who took over Messier and 5-1 second choice Taiba for suspended Bob Baffert, said the Preakness is in considerat­ion for Taiba.

One trainer with options is D. Wayne Lukas, whose scratch of Ethereal Road on Friday ironically set in motion the series of events culminatin­g in Rich Strike’s lastminute entry and ultimate victory.

The 86-year-old Hall of Famer won his fifth Kentucky Oaks with filly Secret Oath and hinted at taking her to Maryland for the Preakness or Black Eyed Susan Stakes for fillies on May 20. Secret Oath ran well against the boys in the Arkansas Derby, finishing behind runner-up Barber Road and winner Cyberknife. Ethereal Road also could be in play after a good workout Sunday.

“The owners are very conscious of the Grade 1s and the purses, so they’ll have an opinion and I’ll respect it,” Lukas said of Secret Oath’s prospects. “I think I’ll get the final vote, though.”

Not far away on the backside, Reed and his new Derby champion packed up for Lexington, Kentucky, to prepare for whatever comes next on and off the track.

Admirers crowded around Barn 17 to see the unlikelies­t of Derby winners. Reed said the colt’s appetite was strong, a good sign of health after his longest trip so far.

One immediate challenge for Reed was answering hundreds of congratula­tory texts after his small operation conquered horse racing’s marquee event — a whirlwind achievemen­t made more fulfilling coming on short notice.

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 ?? JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES PHOTOS ?? Rich Strike went from the claiming ranks to winning the Kentucky Derby (left), making trainer Eric Reed (right) an instant celebrity.
JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES PHOTOS Rich Strike went from the claiming ranks to winning the Kentucky Derby (left), making trainer Eric Reed (right) an instant celebrity.

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