Former $30,000 Claim Rich Strike Stuns Kentucky Derby Field At 80-1 - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Former $30,000 Claim Rich Strike Stuns Kentucky Derby Field At 80-1

Rich Strike wins the 2022 Kentucky Derby under Sonny Leon

He wasn't even in the Kentucky Derby field until Friday morning, but a late scratch allowed Rich Strike into the Churchill Downs starting gate in post 20 on the first Saturday in May. The Keen Ice colt, on a five-race losing streak, proved he belonged with the best of his class when he posted an 80-1 upset in the Run for the Roses. Rich Strike became the second highest-priced Kentucky Derby winner in history, paying $163.80 on a $2 win wager.

Venezuelan-born Sonny Leon, the leading rider for the last three years at Mahoning Valley in Youngstown, Ohio, and who rode six mounts yesterday at Belterra Park in Cincinnati, was riding in his first Kentucky Derby. In what was also his first graded stakes victory, Leon laid down a perfect ride, weaving in and out of horses around the far turn and dodging around a tiring Messier in the stretch. Leon kept driving Rich Strike with everything he had, and managed to prevail over the 4-1 favorite Epicenter by three-quarters of a length on the wire. The final time for the 1 1/4 miles over the fast main track was 2:02.61.

“It's a dream come true,” Leon said. “You know we had a difficult post but I know the horse. I didn't know if he could win but I had a good feeling with him. I had to wait until the stretch and that's what I did. I waited and then the rail opened up. I wasn't nervous, I was excited. Nobody knows my horse like I know my horse.”

Rich Strike is trained by Eric Reed, who maintains the Mercury Equine Center alongside his wife Kay on Russell Cave Road near Lexington, Ky. It was the veteran horseman's first Kentucky Derby starter; he and owner Richard Dawson claimed Rich Strike for $30,000 from breeder Calumet Farm and trainer Joe Sharp last September at Churchill Downs. Reed, who watched the race from the paddock, fell to the ground after Rich Strike crossed the wire first.

“We're not supposed to be here, but I knew this horse would love the track,” Reed said. “It's a horse race, anybody can win it and the tote board don't mean a thing.”

“This is the most unbelievable day ever,” echoed Dawson. “We always felt like if we could just get in, we'd have a shot… Eric and I, we don't run horses unless we think they can win.”

Reed, who has saddled 1,444 winners over a career that began in 1985, began his career when his father Herbert, also a trainer, gave him two horses. He built his business through referrals, and had one previous graded stakes win on his resume: the 2009 Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland with Satans Quick Chick.

“I never dreamed I would be here; I never thought I'd have a Derby horse,” he said. “I never tried to go to the yearling sale and buy a Derby horse. I just wanted to buy my clients a horse that would keep them happy, have some fun, maybe make a little money. If we got a good one, terrific.

“But we don't go out and buy the big horses. We just try to have a good‑quality stable. We always perform well. Our percentages are always good, and we take care of the horse first. And the rest falls into place.”

Jockey Sonny Leon hoists the Kentucky Derby trophy as the realization of a dream come true hit trainer Eric Reed (left) and owner Rick Dawson (second, from right, alongside Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear) following Rich Strike's victory

In 2016, tragedy struck Reed's operation when a lightning strike burned down a barn at his Mercury Equine Center, killing 23 horses.

“When we drove up on that that night, I told my wife, I said, 'We've probably lost everything.'” Reed recalled. “And by the grace of God, the wind was blowing in a direction that kept it from getting to the other two barns. The next morning when we saw the devastation ‑‑ because this happened in the middle of the night ‑‑ I just thought of all the years and all of the stuff we had done to get this beautiful farm. And to have this happen, that something might be telling me it's the end of the line.

“Then everybody was helping me. People I hadn't seen, people I hadn't talked to in years were there. My best friends were there in the morning to pick me up. And about the third or fourth day when people started showing up from states that didn't know who I was, they just saw the story, it let me know there's so much good out there.

“And then I had a few trainers that sent me texts ‑‑ some big trainers, the guys you guys know well ‑‑ that told me, Don't let this take you out. And we'll help you. We'll get you horses. We'll get you clients, whatever you need. And I think that kept me going.

“And then I just decided that I wasn't going to let it take me out. And thank God we're here today.”

Just last year, Reed lost two assistant trainers to cancer.

“They worked for me for 25 years: James Wellman and Hollywood,” he said. “They both passed of cancer within three months of each other. I know they were shining down on me today because they won a lot of the races that got me to where I'm able to get the clients that I got today. And I wish they were here with me. I miss them dearly.”

Meanwhile, Dawson only stayed in the racing industry because of Reed, the owner said in the post-race interview. He had become disenchanted with the business, but Reed helped him regain that faith. He now has two horses in training: one is Rich Strike, and the other is currently laid up.

“Eric [Reed] brought this horse along in a fashion that spaced out his races,” Dawson said. “We passed on some races that didn't really fit what we wanted to do. We literally ‑‑ last fall we got together and he told me he thought we had something.

“As an owner, I was a little anxious and I was thinking, well, if we got a great horse, maybe we ought to run in this race or that race. And Eric was incredibly calm and convincing. And, of course, you know, I mean, why have a trainer if you don't listen to him? And I'm not a 50‑year horse guy.

“And so I trusted Eric to always tell me the truth. Sometimes that wasn't good news, but I knew it was always the truth, and I can deal with that. That's the relationship we've built. And here we are.”

Both have been now been rewarded for their faith in one another, and in Rich Strike. He hadn't won since they claimed him, but the colt earned his way to the Kentucky Derby's also-eligible list via a third-place finish over the synthetic at Turfway Park in the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks.

Still, at 8:45 a.m. on Friday, Reed was told there would be no scratches from the Kentucky Derby. He was disappointed, but began calling around to inform his clients and friends of the news. At 9 a.m., a different phone call came through with the news: Ethereal Road was a scratch, after all, and did Reed want to run his horse?

“I couldn't even breathe to answer to say yes,” Reed relayed.

Finish of the 148th Kentucky Derby, with Rich Strike (right) defeating Epicenter by three-quarters of a length

When the bell rang to release the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby. Leon and Rich Strike broke slightly awkwardly from that far outside post position. Leon allowed the chestnut colt to find his stride behind a wall of horses and quickly guided him closer to the rail. They were third-last around the clubhouse turn, and maintained that position until halfway down the backstretch.

Meanwhile, up front, Summer Is Tomorrow and Crown Pride sped out to the fastest first quarter-mile in Kentucky Derby history: 21.78 seconds. The 2-1 finishers in the G2 UAE Derby, respectively, that pair were a length apart through a first half-mile in 45.36 seconds. Zozos was just outside Messier to track the pace, and post-time favorite Epicenter moved up to be just behind the leading group in fifth approaching the half-mile pole.

Messier looked poised for a perfect trip when he split the two frontrunners around the far turn, and Epicenter was working out a good spot as he moved into contention three-wide. Zandon was rolling from off the pace as well, but it was Leon and Rich Strike who were making up the most ground late.

All eyes were on the battle between Epicenter and Zandon down the stretch, but Leon found clear racing room to their inside and sent Rich Strike flying up the rail to surprise the world. Reigning champion jockey Joel Rosario had to settle for second, beaten just three-quarters of a length aboard the Steve Asmussen-trained G2 Louisiana Derby winner Epicenter. G1 Blue Grass winner Zandon, trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Flavien Prat, was another three-quarters of a length back in third.

G2 Fountain of Youth winner Simplification got up to finish fourth, and G2 Wood Memorial winner Mo Donegal managed fifth from the tough inside draw.

The remaining order of finish was: Barber Road, Tawny Port, Smile Happy, Tiz the Bomb, Zozos, Classic Causeway, Taiba, Crown Pride, Happy Jack, Messier, White Abarrio, Charge It, Cyberknife, Pioneer of Medina, and Summer Is Tomorrow.

Rich Strike was bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm, out of the Canadian champion and Woodbine Oaks-winning Smart Strike mare Gold Strike. The win gives Calumet a 10th Kentucky Derby triumph as the breeder, the farm's first since Strike the Gold in 1991. The win improves the colt's earnings to $1,971,289 with a record of 8-2-0-3.

Rich Strike (Keen Ice) wins the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs on 5.7.22. Sonny Leon up, Eric Reed trainer, RED TR Racing owner.

 

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