Lukas Classic: Rich Strike will face Hot Rod Charlie, 4 others

Lukas Classic: Rich Strike will face Hot Rod Charlie, 4 others

Top Grade 1-winning older horses Art Collector, Hot Rod Charlie and Happy Saver will clash with Kentucky Derby 148 hero Rich Strike in a stellar ninth renewal of the Grade 2, $500,000 Lukas Classic Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Named in honor of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic will go as Race 10 of 11 with a post time of 5:26 p.m. EDT. The Lukas Classic co-headlines Saturday’s program along with the $300,000 Ack Ack (G3), a “win and you’re in" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile Division that will go as Race 9 at 4:55 p.m. The first race of the day is 12:45 p.m.

Overall, the six entrants in this year’s Lukas Classic have amassed 30 wins with combined purse earnings of more than $12.4 million. The race annually serves as a steppingstone to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be held this year Nov. 5 at Keeneland.

Derby winners returning to Churchill Downs have been rare in recent decades. Mandaloun, promoted to first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, finished fourth in this year’s Stephen Foster (G2). In 2018, the previous year’s Derby winner Always Dreaming concluded his career with a fifth-place finish in the Alysheba (G2). Mine That Bird, the 2009 upset winner, tried turf in the 2010 Firecracker (G2) but finished eighth. Giacomo, another big-price Derby winner in 2005, ran fourth in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

A victory by Rich Strike in the Lukas Classic would make him the first Kentucky Derby winner to return to Churchill Downs and win since Silver Charm. The 1997 Derby winner took the 1998 Clark Handicap (G2) beneath the Twin Spires after runner-up finishes to Awesome Again in that year’s renewals of the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Rich Strike, a son of Keen Ice, finished an enigmatic sixth in this year’s Belmont Stakes but rebounded with a respectable fourth in the Travers (G1) behind Epicenter, Cyberknife and Zandon. Trained by Eric Reed, Rich Strike is 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs. His regular rider Sonny Leon, now based in south Florida, will be in the saddle from post No. 4.

The top earner in this year’s Lukas Classic is Hot Rod Charlie. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie has earned a stout $5,251,200 with four victories from 17 starts. The 4-year-old son of Oxbow finished third behind Life Is Good and Happy Saver in the Whitney (G1). Previously, Hot Rod Charlie finished second by 1 3/4 lengths to Country Grammer in the Dubai World Cup (G1).

As a 3-year-old, Hot Rod Charlie was one of the country’s top sophomores. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and won the Pennsylvania Derby (G1). In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hot Rod Charlie was defeated just 4 1/2 lengths by last year’s Lukas Classic winner Knicks Go. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione has the call in the Lukas Classic and will break from post 5.

One of the other top contenders in the Lukas Classic is recent Charles Town Classic (G2) winner Art Collector. Trained by Bill Mott, Art Collector cruised to a 4 1/4-length victory in the Charles Town Classic as the heavy 1-2 favorite.

Previously, the 5-year-old son of Bernardini was the 1 1/2-length victor of last year’s Woodward Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. The Lukas Classic will be Art Collector's fourth start of his 2022 campaign. In February, Art Collector finished 12th in the Saudi Cup (G1). Mott brought Art Collector back to the races in early August, when he defended his title in the Alydar Stakes. Jockey Luis Saez will be in town to ride from post 2.

Happy Saver will attempt to get his revenge from the Whitney on Hot Rod Charlie in the Lukas Classic. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Happy Saver has finished second in his last five outings – the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and Clark (G1) and this year’s Alysheba (G2), Metropolitan Handicap (G1) and Whitney.

A 5-year-old son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Happy Saver won the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup as a 3-year-old. Overall, the talented chestnut sports a record of 11: 5-5-1 with $1,173,300 in purse earnings.

Happy Saver will be ridden by John Velazquez from post 3.

The Lukas Classic field is rounded out by three-time stakes winner King Fury and the Estate of James Coleman Jr.’s five-time winner Chess Chief.

2022 Lukas Classic Stakes (G2)

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