Can Rich Strike take the Eclipse with a Clark win?

Can Rich Strike take the Eclipse with a Clark win?
Photo: Jason Moran / Eclipse Sportswire

After a decent run in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Rich Strike makes one more start this year in the Grade 1, $750,000 Clark Stakes on Friday at Churchill Downs. For this colt, the race carries more importance than just another race to add to his win column. Rich Strike might win the 3-year-old Eclipse Award with a Clark victory, although the race is not a strong one.

How is it possible for Rich Strike to win the award?

Epicenter remains the favorite for the 3-year-old Eclipse Award and shows a consistent record minus the unfortunate injury derailing his Breeders' Cup Classic bid at Keeneland earlier this month. On the negative side, Epicenter won only a single Grade 1 race during the season, which came in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga in August.

If Rich Strike can win the Clark on Friday, the son of Keen Ice gets a second Grade 1 on his resume besides the Kentucky Derby. Considering the Kentucky Derby is weighted more heavily than other races in the eyes of most Eclipse voters, the Clark could push the colt over the top.

Of course, this is a simplistic reading of the situation. Epicenter won only one Grade 1, but his overall resume feels more impressive than that.

In February, Epicenter won the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds against likely the strongest field of the trail season. Runner-up Smile Happy and third-place Zandon went on to make up the exacta in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) in reverse order. Zandon went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby to further back up the Risen Star. 

Then Epicenter won the Louisiana Derby (G2) for his final Derby prep over the promising Zozos. Zozos faded to 10th in the Kentucky Derby in his next start, but he also had to endure a suicidal pace while running wide, which doomed him.

Epicenter was punished for staying at Fair Grounds because they did not offer a Grade 1 prep race. But without looking at the grading on those races, Epicenter clearly beat a great field in the Risen Star and a good one in the Louisiana Derby. Many observers considered him the leader.

A little more than a month later, Epicenter ran second to Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby, but he also made an earlier move into the latter part of a suicidal pace scenario. Two weeks later, Epicenter ran second to Early Voting in the Preakness Stakes after early traffic problems.

Trainer Steve Asmussen wisely gave Epicenter a break after the Preakness. To Epicenter's credit, he came back strong at Saratoga with an easy win in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and a dominating victory in the Travers Stakes for his lone Grade 1.

Even though Rich Strike made a decent closing move for fourth in the Travers, he did not threaten Epicenter at any point.

Rich Strike began the year with three straight losses on synthetic at Turfway Park, which included a third-place finish in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3).

As stated above, Rich Strike pulled off the upset in the Kentucky Derby after making the last move in a race that featured a suicidal pace scenario. Rich Strike followed that upset victory with a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.

Some closers flatten out in marathon races because the added distance of the race saps their energy. To Rich Strike's credit, he came back with a credible fourth-place finish in the Travers Stakes (G1) while losing the runner-up spot to Cyberknife by only a neck. He then made a strong closing move in the Lukas Classic (G3) against older horses at Churchill Downs and lost by a head to the familiar Hot Rod Charlie.

In his most recent start, Rich Strike closed for fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic won by the exceptional Flightline. He lost second to Olympiad by three lengths.

Epicenter's overall 2022 record is 8: 4-3-0, and Rich Strike's record is 8-1-1-2. But again, the Kentucky Derby holds more weight than most Grade 1 races.

Unfortunately for Rich Strike, the Clark field this week came up weak.

Based on class, his biggest challenger is probably Proxy, another closer at the mercy of the pace scenario who has trouble finishing off races for the win. Before hitting the shelf, Proxy ran second in the New Orleans Classic (G2) and Blame Stakes and third in the Ben Ali Stakes (G3) and Stephen Foster Stakes (G2).

West Will Power may end up as the third choice after winning the Fayette Stakes (G2) at Keeneland by 6 3/4 lengths. By reading the running line, it is clear West Will Power took advantage of an uncontested lead through a slow pace before pulling clear for the win.

Before the Fayette, West Will Power won a Churchill allowance race and ran second to Injunction in the R.A. “Cowboy” Jones Overnight Stakes at Ellis Park. On that note, Injunction is West Will Power's main pace threat in the Clark.

Those were West Will Power's three races under his new trainer Brad Cox. Perhaps this 5-year-old son of Bernardini is headed in the right direction.

Beyond the top three public choices, horses such as Trademark, Injunction, Fulsome and Last Samurai just do not sound like names in a true Grade 1 race. In most cases, Rich Strike and Proxy are outside threats in graded-stakes races, but against these opponents, they are the best horses entered.

If Rich Strike wins the Clark, will Eclipse Award voters overlook the weak Clark field strength and vote him as the best 3-year-old anyway? Maybe. Stranger things happened before in the Eclipse Award. Remember when Zenyatta beat Blame for horse of the year in 2010? Voters do not always award the best horse when it comes to the Eclipse Awards. 

But after losing to Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby, Epicenter easily beat him in the Travers by over five lengths. Epicenter turning the tables at Saratoga needs to count for something when voters consider whether Rich Strike's Kentucky Derby outweighs the Travers Stakes.

There are three closing points to end this post.

Epicenter deserves the Eclipse Award for best 3-year-old male. He had the best overall campaign and more talent than Rich Strike. With that said, Rich Strike has somewhat of an argument to win the award if he ends up winning the Clark Stakes this week. But even if Rich Strike wins the Eclipse, Epicenter was clearly the better 3-year-old of the two.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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