Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on Saturday, May 4, at Churchill Downs.
The series opens this week with Lucas Stritsman of Troy, N.Y., who manages Corms Racing Stable. Stritsman, 42, and his wife, Erika, have two children, Klara, 7, and Evan, 5. He and his brother, Evan, operate Best Fire Hearth and Patio in Albany, N.Y. Their father, Wayne, started the business in his garage more than four decades ago.
Stritsman has formed a dynamic combination with trainer Danny Gargan. They claimed Divine Miss Grey for $16,000 in March 2017 and she went on to develop into a graded stakes winner. She rewarded them beyond their wildest dreams with $613,200 in earnings last year.
Just when they thought it could not get any better, Gargan claimed Tax for $50,000 last Oct. 21 at Keeneland, securing him in a seven-way shake in behalf of Hugh Lynch. Stritsman, R. A. Hill Stable and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing later joined as partners.
Tax, a gelded son of Arch, ran third in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack before charging up the rail to capture the $250,000, Grade 3 Withers Stakes on Feb. 2 at Aqueduct with Junior Alvarado aboard.
Tax ranks eighth on the Road to the Derby leaderboard with 12 points.
PEDULLA: How did you develop an interest in racing?
STRITSMAN: I started at a young age, growing up around Saratoga. We would make a couple of trips a year [to Saratoga Race Course] and I can remember chasing down jockeys for autographs as they walked through the backyard at Saratoga.
PEDULLA: Was it a dream at a young age to own Thoroughbreds?
STRITSMAN: I don’t know if it was a dream at a young age to own, but I used to keep stats, keep track of a lot of stakes races and who won them. I was following the sport at a young age for sure.
PEDULLA: How did you get into ownership?
STRITSMAN: We bought into a small syndicate in Schuylerville, N.Y. The two horses we had were Liberty’s Thunder and a filly called Nanny’s Kitty, which we actually named after my grandmother. We were with [trainer] Chris Englehart out of Finger Lakes. It kind of fell apart financially. I wound up taking it over, and I learned a lot from that experience, the financials of it, relationships with people, and doing the right thing.
PEDULLA: How many horses are you involved with now?
STRITSMAN: Eighteen or nineteen, something like that. These are pieces of everything. I range from 10 percent to 50 percent.
PEDULLA: Are they all with Danny Gargan?
STRITSMAN: Absolutely. Danny and I are close. They are not all in training. Some of them are yearlings and 2-year-olds that are not yet with Danny.
PEDULLA: Where do things stand with Divine Miss Grey?
STRITSMAN: Divine Miss Grey went back into training three or four weeks ago after basically some time off at the barn from the daily grind. She is doing absolutely phenomenal.
PEDULLA: How old is she now?
STRITSMAN: She is 5. We’re going to race her this year, probably take a shot at a couple of Grade 1s.
PEDULLA: How did it come about that Tax was claimed? Did Danny see something?
STRITSMAN: Danny is the catalyst in all of my success. He is very experienced. He knows a lot about the game. He watched him in a maiden race and then he saw him in for $50,000 and he flew down to Keeneland to claim the horse. It was all Danny.
PEDULLA: What did Danny see to believe it was a worthwhile claim?
STRITSMAN: Danny saw a nice pedigree, a Clairborne [Farm] homebred. He was a gelding, so that might be a reason why he was in.
PEDULLA: The Remsen had to be encouraging for you.
STRITSMAN: Oh, my God. Danny improved him by almost 30 points on the Beyer number.
PEDULLA: What was it like to win the Withers?
STRITSMAN: You see him coming up the rail and it was like, ‘Holy, moly, we’re going to win this race.’ Junior Alvarado, after the race, said the horse took the lead and he kind of waited for them a little bit.
PEDULLA: Does Tax still have unrealized potential?
STRITSMAN: That performance said there is something left in the tank. I don’t think we’ve seen the bottom of him yet.
PEDULLA: What is next for Tax?
STRITSMAN: The Jeff Ruby Steaks is still an option. The Tampa Bay Derby is a longshot option or maybe training him up to the Wood. Maybe the Louisiana Derby. Danny will navigate that. He is very good at that.
PEDULLA: Is it your feeling the longer he goes, the better he might be?
STRITSMAN: It seems that way. He galloped out stronger than anybody in that [Withers] field. I think the longer he goes, the better for him. He’s definitely bred to go long.
PEDULLA: There is a long way to go, but are you allowing yourself to dream of the Kentucky Derby?
STRITSMAN: We’re definitely dreaming right now, for sure. I’ve never been to the Derby. We have an annual Derby party at my house. I always told my wife I don’t want to go to the Derby unless we have one there. I always think I’m going to get to the Derby someday, but it’s very, very hard to do.
PEDULLA: Do you daydream about looking out at the track on Derby day and there is Tax?
STRITSMAN: I’m thinking about the walkover. Our goal is to get there. To say that we could have one running, that is goal number one.
PEDULLA: Ever think about winning the Derby?
STRITSMAN: You have to think you can, right? Why not?