SARATOGA SPRINGS — Trainer Eric Reed thought he was suffering from Slow Stopwatch Thumb on Friday morning.
And apparently it’s a contagious condition.
He didn’t believe the time he had clocked for his Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, so he turned to assistant Sid Scott for a more accurate time, and didn’t get one.
Or so they thought.
Rich Strike breezed five furlongs in 59.82 on the Saratoga Race Course main track at 5:40 a.m., and more important than the quick time, to Reed, was the way Rich Strike comfortably did it on a track that had been considered a chore to run over.
Rich Strike shipped in from Kentucky on Sunday afternoon and breezed Friday as a final tuneup for next Saturday’s Grade I Travers.
“When I looked at my watch down the stretch, I thought I must’ve messed up, so I asked Sid, ‘What did you get for the last quarter?’ and he said, ‘Well, I messed up, too,’” Reed said.
“But we didn’t. It was just really that fast.”
Reed likened the workout to what he saw from Rich Strike prior to his win in the Derby at betting odds of 80-1 on May 7.
On Friday, he had instructed regular exercise rider Gabriel Lagunes to cover the half-mile in 49 or 50 seconds and the five-eighths in 1:02.
Rich Strike’s 59.82 was the third-fastest of 34 published works at five furlongs on the main track for the day.
“I was shocked,” Reed said. “I was uncertain how much he would take to the track, and everybody saying how tiring it is. So I didn’t want him to overdo it.
“It makes me feel really good, because I didn’t get that at Belmont. And that’s how he does it at Churchill, he just does it so easy.”
The Rich Strike camp had planned to skip the Preakness no matter what happened in the Derby, and stuck to it, waiting for the June 11 Belmont Stakes instead of pursuing the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
A sub-par workout at Belmont Park led to a flat sixth-place performance in the Belmont Stakes, 13 1/4 lengths behind Mo Donegal.
Rich Strike had been training primarily at Reed’s Mercury Equine Center outside Lexington, Kentucky, since then, before breezes the past two weekends on the main track at Churchill Downs.
“I wasn’t worried about him being tired,” Reed said. “I was just worried about him struggling over the track. He wouldn’t have done that [59.82] if he struggled.
“I thought the last work at Churchill was all I needed fitness-wise. This was just something to test him over the track. If he went in 49 or 50 and Gabriel was trying to slow him down, then I’d know he liked the track, and if he went 49 and 50 and came off huffing and puffing, then I was going to figure he was fighting the track.”
Reed said Rich Strike’s Friday work was an eye-opener right from the start, when the colt, went the first quarter-mile in 22 and two-fifths seconds, followed by sub-47 for the half-mile.
Even better was the post-work.
Rich Strike, a son of Keen Ice, who upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers, popped his 59.82 and didn’t appear to have over-exerted himself when Lagunes brought him back.
“What he normally does so easy, like today, you could tell he was working to do it up there [at Belmont],” Reed said. “This came so easy and is what I like. This is what we see at Churchill. He likes this track. Just keep him happy now. A lot of paddock schooling. And praying.
“I think we might have a shot.”
Leader of the Band was front and center in Friday’s $135,000 Summer Colony for fillies and mares at a mile and an eighth on the main track.
In a move to prevent her from leaning into the back of the stall in the starting gate, trainer John Servis came up with the idea of bringing Leader of the Band to the front of the gate and backing her in to start, with a cushioned wedge at the back of the gate.
The move paid off, as she broke alertly and went on to win by three-quarters of a length over First to Act.
It was the third win of the day for 50-year-old jockey John Velazquez, who got the ride when Joel Rosario took off his mounts for the day due to illness.
“She has a bad habit of sitting back on the door before she breaks,” Servis said. “So, when the front doors open, she sits back and then breaks, subsequently getting herself left a length or two.
“So we thought we’d put the wedge in and then take her around the front and back her in, and maybe that will help her stay up instead of sitting back. Today, she broke better than she’s ever broke, ever.”
Also on the card, the Chad Brown-trained Oxymore backed up her impressive win at Belmont Park on July 1 by winning the Skidmore, a turf sprint for 2-year-olds.