Unbelievable. While Epicenter and Zandon battled for the lead down the home stretch, Rich Strike snuck past them on the inside with an amazing burst of speed and surprised the heck out of everyone, passing Epicenter and winning by 1 3/4 lengths. For those who had faith in the chestnut, a bet paid off big time: Rich Strike is the second highest-priced Kentucky Derby winner in history, paying $163.80 on a $2 win wager. I guess fairy tales can come true.
The Derby started with blazing speed. Summer Is Tomorrow and Crown Pride laid down the fastest first quarter-mile in Kentucky Derby history: 21.78 seconds. From there, the race proceeded predictably. After the early speed, Epicenter and Zandon emerged as the leaders down the backstretch. Leon, in comparison, settled Rich Strike toward the back of the field — the colt was in 18th place after the first turn — and bided his time. As the early leaders began to tire, Leon moved up his horse, weaving around his rivals, including a quick maneuver around Messier, which left him a clear spot on the rail. From there, the colt exploded.
So, who is Rich Strike? The colt was on nobody’s radar screen and only was in the race today because D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road right before the deadline on Friday. The colt came into the Derby off a five race losing streak. In fact, the last race he won was a $30,000 claiming race — which happened to be at Churchill Downs. Even his post position was inauspicious — only Big Brown has won from that spot in the past 17 Derbys.
His connections are equally unknown in a sport where the big name trainers dominate the Triple Crown races. Rich Strike is owned by Richard Dawson, trained by Eric Reed and ridden by Sonny Leon. None of the three had every had a Kentucky Derby horse before. In fact, Dawson had never owned a stakes winner; Reed had one previous stakes win (in 2009) on his resume and Leon, who has been 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, has never come up against the likes of Joel Rosario (Epicenter), Flavian Prat (Zandon), or Mike Smith (Taiba). In fact, despite is perfect ride today, this was Leon’s first graded stakes victory.
The best way to describe the reaction to their winning horse is stunned.
“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.”
“I saw him at the head of the stretch when he cut in and then I passed out. I don’t remember what happened after that.”
“I’m going to pass out, I’m so happy,” he said. “This is the reason everybody does this. This is the most unbelievable day ever possible.”Eric reed, Rich Strike’s trainer
Owner, Richard Dawson, was equally shocked.
“What planet is this? I feel like I have been propelled somewhere. I’m not sure,” he said. “This is unbelievable. I asked my trainer up on the stage, I said, ‘Are you sure this is not a dream? Because it can’t be true.’ He assured me this is real.”
“I didn’t get into this to win the Kentucky Derby — although I’m not giving the trophy back.”Richard Dawson
I guess this is what horse racing is all about. When it comes down to the wire, the fastest horse wins — even if no one has heard of him.