When Rich Strike swept under the wire a winner in the 2022 Kentucky Derby, he became the 10th winner of the race bred in the name of Calumet Farm.
Under Warren Wright’s ownership, the farm bred 1941 winner Whirlaway (by Blenheim), 1944 winner Pensive (Hyperion), 1948 winner Citation (Bull Lea), 1949 winner Ponder (Pensive), and 1952 winner Hill Gail (Bull Lea), a yearling at the time of Wright’s death. Under the tenure of Wright’s widow Lucille and her subsequent husband Gene Markey, Calumet bred 1957 winner Iron Liege (Bull Lea), 1958 winner Tim Tam (Tom Fool), and 1968 winner Forward Pass (On-and-On), following the disqualification of Dancer’s Image. The Wright heirs were in charge of breeding 1992 winner Strike the Gold (Alydar).
Brad Kelley’s ownership has meant many things for Calumet, and Kelley brought the farm its 10th Kentucky Derby winner with Rich Strike (Keen Ice).
One of the things that Kelley brought to Calumet was a broad spectrum of stallions, from Grade 1-winning sprinters like Ransom the Moon (Malibu Moon) to Melbourne Cup winner Americain (Dynaformer). But the most prescient of Kelley’s stallion acquisitions might well be the Curlin horse Keen Ice, the winner of the 2015 Travers over Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile).
Racing for Donegal Stables, Keen Ice showed other evidence of Grade 1 form – second in the Haskell, Whitney, and Jockey Club Gold Cup; third in the Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic – and Calumet bought the stallion rights to the handsome son of Curlin, as well as becoming a racing partner in Keen Ice toward the end of the colt’s time on the track.
Now, from the bay’s first crop of racing age, Keen Ice has sired a Kentucky Derby winner. Rich Strike is also the leading earner and second stakes winner for his sire, whose first crop are now three.
Calumet bred the Derby winner from Gold Strike (Smart Strike), Canada’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2005, whom the farm had purchased at the 2015 Keeneland November sale for $230,000 in foal to Sky Mesa. The mare was carrying a full sibling to G2 winner Llanarmon, winner of the 2013 Natalma Stakes.
For Calumet, Gold Strike foaled a full sister to the G2 winner that was named J and J O’Shea, then My Blonde Mary (Oxbow), had a barren year, and the Kentucky Derby winner. Rich Strike was a foal of April 25, 2019, and his dam was pronounced in foal on a June 15 cover to Calumet stallion Ransom the Moon.
Unfortunately, Gold Strike lost that pregnancy prior to arriving at the 2019 Keeneland November sale. Empty for the second time in three years, the mare did not attract much favorable attention at the auction and sold for $1,700 to Tommy Wente.
Wente said, “I’m known for buying those well-bred mares that nobody wants, and she fit the bill. She was a graded winner and the dam of a graded winner, but she had some bad produce years there at the end. I’ve always got people calling me before the sale asking me to keep my eyes open for a mare or two that could be worth having. I usually end up buying 12-15 mares and have flipped quite a few by the end of the sale, then keep a few for myself.”
Wente ended up passing the mare on to an associate, M.C. Roberts of Indiana, who tried to get a foal from her until a few weeks ago. Then Roberts gave the mare to Austin Nicks, who said, “I didn’t do nothing; it’s just a freak deal. We’d love to get her in foal.”
To that end, Nicks shipped the mare from Indiana to Tracey and Clay Caudill’s Watershed Farm near Lexington last week, and the attending veterinarian, Rocky Mason DVM of Lexington Equine Medical Group, is “going over her with a fine-tooth comb to see if she could get in foal.”
Wente’s observation was: “That mare needed a reproductive specialist but never got to one till now. It took her getting a Derby winner to get the specialist she needed.”
The Derby winner is the eighth and most recent foal out of Gold Strike. He is the mare’s second graded stakes winner and biggest earner. Rich Strike earned $1,860,000 in taking the $3-million Kentucky Derby, elevating his earnings to $1,971,289, with a record of 2-0-3 in eight starts.
By a Travers winner out of a champion filly in Canada, Rich Strike “was a colt that we liked right along,” according to Calumet’s farm manager Eddie Kane. “We kept this colt for the racing stable, sent him to Florida for breaking and early training with April Mayberry down in Ocala, and she liked him.
“April said this was a good colt and that there was a lot of upside to him, because he wasn’t a sprinter, and we always thought a lot of him because he was such a good-looking son of a gun.”
Now the team at Calumet, the farm that has produced more winners of the Kentucky Derby than any other farm in the Bluegrass, has to gaze out over the lush pastures full of young prospects and wonder. Is there another one out there?