Keen Ice stamina comes to fore with Rich Strike
Back on Dec. 13, my TwinSpires Edge column on the first crop of Keen Ice included this paragraph:
“The second-best of Keen Ice’s progeny by Speed rating is Rich Strike. He won his second start at Churchill Downs Sept. 17, making progress after a muddling start to win by a staggering 17 1/4 lengths, prior to finishing third in a Keeneland allowance after a rough start. His best Speed rating is 85, and he should be a good horse for trainer Eric Reed.”
That’s about as close as most people got to considering Rich Strike as a Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect.
As it turns out, Rich Strike inherited two key traits from Keen Ice. One was stamina: Keen Ice needed at least 1 1/4 miles to excel, which appears to be the case for Rich Strike. The second: the ability to cause a huge upset. Keen Ice’s biggest moment in racing came when he also stormed from well back to win the 2015 Travers S. (G1), inflicting the only defeat on American Pharoah in his three-year-old career.
Calumet gave Keen Ice every chance as a sire. For a stallion who needed time and distance, Keen Ice's progeny had a good juvenile season; his total of 70 runners in North America was second only to Connect, and he had 17 winners, though none won black type races.
Prior to the Kentucky Derby, he’d had 77 North American three-year-old runners. He’d had one black type winner – Bold Leader, winner of the Clasico George Washington at Camarero in Puerto Rico. No Brisnet Speed rating is available for his Puerto Rico racing, though he had raced on the U.S. mainland as a juvenile, where his highest rating was 78.
Keen Ice’s biggest earner this season prior to the Derby was Majestic Frontier, who’d finished second in the Miracle Wood S. at Laurel Park Feb. 19. His highest Brisnet Speed rating was 90 – a mark Rich Strike had exceeded by five prior to the Derby.
Now, with the Kentucky Derby triumph, Calumet Farm will be full of enthusiasm about Keen Ice’s stallion prospects. He stood for a fee of $7,500 this year; if his progeny continue to get better with age, as he did, some more good progeny should emerge, and that fee might well be higher next year.
Thirteen days after the article mentioned above, Rich Strike had his first race in stakes company. With Sonny Leon aboard for the first time, he settled last of the seven-horse field, and made his way past two horses in the run to the line to finish fifth. He was 14 lengths behind the winner, Epicenter – a horse he would famously come to lock horns with again.
Not a bad run, but not one to suggest a Kentucky Derby victory.
After that, Rich Strike was switched to the Turfway Park Tapeta. He ran fairly well on that surface in three races, his best run coming when third to Tiz the Bomb and Tawny Port in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). It’s possible his true ability as a three-year-old was hidden because he wasn’t running on dirt. But it’s equally possible it wasn’t.
What is clear is that on Derby Day, he was ready for the race of his life, and that the hot pace and the path he was able to secure suited him perfectly as he ran by Epicenter right by the line.
However much of a surprise it was, Rich Strike shouldn’t be written off. It’s worth remembering that Mine That Bird, the shock 50-1 winner in 2009, would then push Rachel Alexandra hard in the Preakness (G1) and then finish third in the Belmont S. (G1) and the West Virginia Derby (G2). Not one of the great Kentucky Derby winners, then, but a thoroughly worthy racehorse during the Triple Crown at least.
Don’t be surprised if Rich Strike follows a similar path. The Belmont in particular, in which Keen Ice himself finished third as American Pharoah completed his Triple Crown, should suit him well.