Rich Strike arrived at Belmont Park today, 10 days before the 154th Belmont Stakes. The surprise Kentucky Derby winner took a trot around the dirt training track before heading to the barn for a long nap.

Rich Strike-Belmont arrival
Rich Strike enjoys a bath from groom Jerry Dixon Jr. after arriving at Belmont Park on Tuesday morning. The Kentucky Derby champion will go through paddock schooling, then informally work out in the afternoon. (Image: Adam Coglianese)

The Derby winner, along with exercise rider Gabriel Lagunes and outrider Juan Galvez and his pony, took a two-lap jaunt around Belmont Park’s exercise track.

Afterward, trainer Eric Reed outlined Rich Strike’s schedule going forward. He’s planned paddock schooling in the mornings, before training on the main track.

“He’s so routine-oriented. We’re in a new place, so we can set his routine here and, in two days, he’ll be fine,” Reed told the New York Racing Association. “He settled down a lot the second time around. A lot of that was trying to get him used to the pony. You could see the farther he went, the better he accepted the pony. I think by the end of the week, they’ll be good buddies and on race day, he needs a buddy.”

Rich Strike put on a Memorial Day show

This won’t include a breeze. Not after Rich Strike treated Churchill Downs’ Memorial Day crowd to a 59-second, five-furlong breeze. This included a six-furlong gallop out in 1:12.

“He got away real (sic) well and worked exactly like we wanted him to do,” Reed told Churchill Downs’ Kevin Kerstein after the breeze. “The track was a little quicker since it was in the afternoon, but it was exactly what we wanted to do. Yesterday, he was starting to relax in the morning. After some time away from the races, that’s sort of what we’ve seen from him. There’s no doubt about his confidence. We’ve seen him come off the track in [the] mornings more playful. It’s like he knows what he did in the Derby. I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of him.”

Race purists are still cranky they didn’t see Rich Strike at the May 21 Preakness. Reed and owner Rick Dawson opted to skip the Triple Crown’s middle jewel because of the colt’s schedule.

Win the Derby and everyone wants a piece

Because of the events of May 7 at Churchill Downs — which even Reed and Dawson never saw coming — Rich Strike’s absence at Pimlico was noticed. You don’t win America’s most-watched race at 80.80/1 and go gently into the woodwork.

“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 the race at New Orleans (the December Gun Runner) and I know what happened there when he was out of routine, and I knew the Preakness would be a disaster.

“All his races have to be planned out with distance and the type of track because there’s some tracks where it’s real (sic) difficult to close at a mile-and-a-quarter, even. 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.”

The Belmont was always the target

This marked the first time since Spend a Buck in 1985 that a healthy Derby winner bypassed the Preakness. That year, Spend a Buck’s connections chased a $2 million bonus for winning the Jersey Derby instead of chasing potential history.

Last year’s Derby winner, Mandaloun, skipped both the Preakness and Belmont, but he wasn’t the Derby winner when he bypassed both races. That was the late Medina Spirit, who crossed the Derby finish line first, then finished third in the Preakness two weeks later. Nine months later, Median Spirit was stripped of his Derby title after testing positive for the banned-on-race-day anti-inflammatory betamethasone.

That said, the Belmont was always Reed’s Triple Crown target. His future Rich Strike target going forward is the Aug. 27 Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Considering that’s the stated target of Derby/Preakness runner-up Epicenter, along with Preakness winner Early Voting and Derby third-place finisher Zandon, the Travers could be the sophomore race of the year.

“The owners always wanted to run him in the Travers and I think that’s a good spot for him,” Reed said.

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