The past few years have featured a lot of crazy things at the Kentucky Derby, but Rich Strike’s unlikely victory on Saturday in the 148th running of the biggest horse race in America might just take the cake.
Recently there have been departures from the norm, with the Derby being run in September in 2020 before a nearly empty grandstand rather than in its usual first Saturday in May because of COVID-19. Then last year’s original winner, Medina Spirit, was disqualified for testing positive for a steroid that’s banned on race day.
But hardly anything else in the storied history of this race compares to the absolute jaw-dropping win by the mega-longshot Rich Strike. At odds of more than 80-1, Rich Strike came from well off the pace to stun 19 other blue-blood rivals and capture the Run for the Roses.
Rich Strike, who wasn’t even a part of the field until Ethereal Road was scratched on Friday, is trained by Eric Reed and owned by RED TR-Racing. Sonny Leon, a journeyman jockey from Venezuela based in Ohio and northern Kentucky, rode Rich Strike, and won his first Kentucky Derby in his first ever attempt.
“I knew the horse could do anything if he could find his way through the traffic,” Reed said afterward. “That’s why I had Sonny on him — he got us here and he knows the horse.
“We knew this horse could get the distance — it was just if he could get through the company and Sonny gave him just the greatest ride that I’ve ever seen. And this horse had training just remarkable for the race.”
The winner is the second longest shot to win the Derby after Donerail took the post at 91-1 odds to win the Run for the Roses in 1913.
Race-favorite Epicenter was second by a length, with Zandon third by another half-length and Simplification fourth.
Rich Strike had raced just seven times before the Derby, winning once and finishing third three times. He finished a well-beaten third in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on the synthetic track at Turfway Park on April 2.
The winner found his way through the field after starting in the 21st and far outside post position and under the fastest opening quarter mile in race history.
Rich Strike was still far back under a very fast pace as the horses turned for home down the long Churchill Downs stretch but went to the rail to save ground. Leon moved out to get past a fading Messier and then returned to the rail to run down Epicenter and Zandon, who were eye-to-eye with the finish line in sight but could not hold off the winner.
Rich Strike paid $163.60 to win, the second biggest win payout in race history. He finished the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:02.61 over a fast track.
Rick Dawson, a semi-retired Oklahoma businessman and owner of Rich Strike, found out that his colt would get a spot in the Derby about 30 seconds before the Friday morning entry deadline and after Ethereal Road’s scratch.
“We really always felt like if we could just get in then we’ve got a shot,” Dawson said. “We proved it today. We would never enter a race we didn’t think we could win. It’s like winning the Super Bowl, I promise you — only bigger. You only have one player.”
The 147th Preakness Stakes is slated for May 21 at Pimlico in Baltimore with the 154th Belmont Stakes three weeks later, on June 11, in New York City.
–Field Level Media
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