Rich Strike won’t win the Belmont. Here’s why

Rich Strike became – for a minute – America’s darling when he rallied from the back to win the Kentucky Derby in an 80-1 shocker.

But then the connections pulled a stunner of their own, pulling out of the Preakness Stakes and deciding to point instead to the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes June 11.

History indicated that RIch Strike probably wouldn’t win the Preakness had he gone forward. It’s no kinder to him regarding the Belmont.

“Originally we thought, ‘Well, if we can get to the Derby and run well, we’ll go to the Belmont because the farther the better,” Rich Strike’s trainer Eric Reed said after the connections had decided to withdraw from the Preakness. “And of course, you know, we’re not planning on being the winner of the Derby. So when that happened, we knew we were going to be under a lot of pressure.”

“The farther the better” line is one you hear a lot about horses that close big gaps in the Derby, and it often leads to their being overbet in the Belmont. If this horse can come running like that going 10 furlongs in the Kentucky Derby, the thinking goes, imagine what he’ll do in the 12-furlong Belmont.

Except it usually doesn’t work that way.

With his upset win in the Derby, Rich Strike became the 22nd horse since 2000 to be at least 10 lengths behind in the Derby and rally to hit the board. He was the sixth to rally from at least 15 back to win, a list that includes Monarchos, Giacomo, Mine That Bird, Street Sense, and Orb, as well as Rich Strike.

Of those, 17 subsequently ran in the Belmont. And exactly none of them won.

The reason is simple: pace.

Rich Strike’s surprising Derby win was set up by a blistering early pace – 45.36 seconds for the opening half, 1:10.34 for three quarters – that compromised just about every horse that was anywhere near the front early. In fact, Epicenter, the runner-up, was the only horse in the top 10 early to finish in the top seven.

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Video edited on Kapwing

And fast or near-fast Derby paces are the norm. From 2015 to the present (and excluding 2020 because, you know, 2020), the average opening half-mile of the Kentucky Derby has been 46.29 seconds. The opening three quarters have averaged 1:11.12.

With paces like that, it’s not too surprising that just about every year, at least one horse rallies from well back in the Kentucky Derby to hit the board.

But the Belmont, with its 1 ½-mile distance – a quarter-mile farther than the Kentucky Derby – is another matter entirely. During the same period, the average opening half-mile in the Belmont has taken 48.23 seconds, while three quarters have averaged 1:13.25. That’s a two-second gap between Derby times and Belmont times.

That much more manageable pace means that, despite the added distance of the Belmont, forwardly placed horses have more in the tank when they hit the lane and those running from the rear usually have too much to accomplish. In fact, the average per-furlong time for the last half of the Belmont – from six furlongs home – has been slightly faster than the average per-furlong time of the Derby from six furlongs home.

That makes it tough to close.

The lesson: root for Rich Strike all you like. But put your win money elsewhere.