mike francesa
Peter Ackermann | Asbury Park Press

Mike Francesa is so disgusted with Rich Strike’s management, he won’t even say the horse’s name.


The WFAN legend — and part-owner of elite race horse High Oak — blasted the decision to scratch the historic Kentucky Derby long-shot winner from this weekend’s Preakness Stakes on his latest BetRivers podcast. Owner Rick Dawson announced last week the horse is healthy, but will forfeit its bid for a Triple Crown to focus on the Belmont Stakes in June.

Francesa’s rant in full:

Now, leave it far from me to ever try to manage somebody else’s horse as a horse owner. I would never do that. But let me also say this: What went on here in this decision-making with the Derby winner is dead wrong. 

If the Derby winner was injured or sick, there’s nothing to discuss. You do what’s right for the horse. But the idea that you just decide to pass because it fits your training regimen. You just decide — and nobody trains stake horses anymore, and that horse went into the Derby not even looking like a stake horse, to be honest with you, but he proved he was one in the Derby by winning. But the idea that you adhere to a training regimen is just wrong-headed on so many levels.

With a Derby win comes glory, comes riches, comes compensation that you dream about. But with it also comes responsibility. You have to also remember that what makes the Derby great — and the Derby is great on its own merits, it’s a standalone event, it’s a part of Americana, if there wasn’t a Triple Crown there is still a Kentucky Derby, it is one of the great events in America, it is a race that is known in every nook and cranny of the world, there are few events bigger than the Kentucky Derby. So it stands on its own and would stand if there was not a Triple Crown.

But it is part of a Triple Crown. And neither the Preakness nor the Belmont are the Derby. They don’t stand on their own. When they don’t have a connection to the Triple Crown, and many times they don’t because of performance, they are just another race. They are an exciting race, they are a fun day at the track, they are a good card. But they are just another race.

And with all the money you get, and with all the glory you get and all the considerations you get, comes some responsibility. And that is you accept when you enter the Derby that you have accepted the challenge of trying to, if your horse is up to it and if he is healthy, to compete for one of the toughest crowns there is. One of the most coveted crowns in all of sports, the Triple Crown. You know how hard it is, and how unusual it is to train horses this way. This is how it was done in the past, it is still done this way because to change it would just ruin the history of the Triple Crown and what it brings to racing.

So you try to win at three different tracks, at three different distances, over five weeks. To win at the Derby, come back two weeks later in the Preakness, and then if you win both to come back and take the test of a champion three weeks later. And try to see if your horse can live up to the greats of the game. And bring that glory to the game. 

But when you shock the world with a horse that had only won a maiden 30 claimer, and was fortunate to even be in that race. When you shock the world, and to your credit do a great job, trainer, jockey, and win the race at 80-1, and then abdicate the challenge, all you have is mud everywhere. All you’ve done is splashed the entire sport, and yourselves, in dirt. And taken away that little bit that racing carves out for itself nationally, and destroyed it.

You owe racing more than that. You owe the sport and the game more than that. Like I said, if your horse is injured, so be it. If your horse is sick, so be it. But do just pass and say, ‘We’ll get ready for the Belmont?’ That’s not part of the deal.

I understand you went into a Derby without much of a chance. You weren’t even in the race until Friday, you got in the race and then shocked the world. Kudos to everyone involved, to all the connections. But then to not handle it like anyone — anyone — who cares about the game would shows that, you know what? You just weren’t worthy of the honor. I’m sorry. 

I haven’t mentioned the horse’s name, except to call him the Derby winner. And I won’t on this podcast. That’s how sickened I am by their decision. Racing needs better than that.

Francesa’s horse was considered a contender for the Derby field before taking a fall in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in early March. High Oak will hopefully be back on the track later this summer, Francesa said, and he hopes the horse could eventually see Rich Strike in a race. But had High Oak made it to the Derby and won, Francesa wanted to make something clear.,

“I would have crawled to the Preakness,” he said. “I would have done anything I could do to get my horse to the Preakness. Because that’s the dream. You love the competition. You love the idea of trying to do what is almost impossible to do.

“To run away from it, to run away from that challenge, just means more problems for a game that unfortunately has more problems that it can deal with right now. We don’t need to have the Triple Crown beaten up any more than it has been beaten up in the past few years.”

James Kratch can be reached at james.kratch@xlmedia.com


James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.