Rich Strike makes a fortune at the Kentucky Derby • Troy Media
Last Saturday, the 148th Kentucky Derby, one of the three jewels of the American Triple Crown along with the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, produced a great moment in horse racing history. It’s the heartwarming story of a longshot horse who barely made it to the race and a trio of individuals who had never competed in the “race for the roses”.
Some horses have won one, two or, in rare cases, all three legs of this series of races.
Sir Barton became the first to win the Triple Crown in 1919. The legendary Man o’ War skipped the Derby in 1920 but won the Preakness and the Belmont. Canada’s Northern Dancer won the Derby and the Preakness in 1964 and finished third at the Belmont. There was a 37-year gap between triple crown winners Affirmed (1978) and American Pharoah (2015)
There have also been upset winners.
The Derby’s biggest surprise was Donerail in 1913. A 91-1 longshot, owner Thomas Hayes’ instruction to jockey Roscoe Goose was to earn a “share of the purse” by finishing the race. The horse exceeded expectations, beating favorite Ten Point in an eight-horse field. He took home a payout of US$184.90 for a $2 bet, which remains the biggest in Derby history.
Donerail won just 10 of 62 races – despite reaching the standings in half of them – and retired in relative obscurity. Hayes, a respected Louisville native, became only the second person to own, raise and train a Derby winner.
Goose, also a native of Louisville, became a highly respected statesman. “The Golden Goose” trained and owned horses. He was instrumental in helping jockeys like Eddie Arcaro and Charlie Kurtsinger, who won the Triple Crown with War Admiral in 1937. As his great-niece, Carla Grego, said on a TV special Kentucky Educational Television in 2014, “I never heard anyone say a bad word about him. Everyone who spoke about him said what a gentleman he was.
More than a century later, another upheaval may have overturned Donera’s fabled tale
he down an ankle. That’s when the world saw Rich Strike 80-1 from afar hitting the Derby hard.
Rich Strike was raised on Calumet Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Her dam was Canada’s Gold Strike, who won four of nine races and was named Canadian Champion Three-Year-Old Filly in 2005. Her sire was Keen Ice, who won 3 of 24 races – including a huge win over American Pharoah at the Travers Stakes 2015.
Alas, this horse did not have a stellar record. In the previous seven races, his only win was in last September’s Maiden Claiming at Churchill Downs, home of the Derby. An impressive 17 1/4 lengths encouraged trainer Eric Reed to purchase it for US$30,000 on behalf of Richard Dawson’s RED-TR Racing.
Reed has been training horses since 1983. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Herbert, who apprenticed with trainer/owner/breeder Mack Miller. Dawson, who has had a long career in the oil and gas industry, is a newcomer who bought his first horse in 2019.
The other piece of the puzzle is Venezuelan-born Sonny Leon. The relatively unknown jockey “had such a light footprint in North American horse racing,” the Lexington Herald chief noted on May 9, that “he had never won a high-stakes race.” Nonetheless, Leon has been a “regular rider away from the brightest lights of horse racing at the Mahoning Valley Racecourse in Youngstown, Ohio”, and he, in fact, “wins races, having won 226 in 2021 over a huge 1,125 starts”.
Rich Strike almost didn’t enter the Derby.
A third-place finish at last month’s Jeff Ruby Steaks gave the horse 20 points in the 2022 Road to the Kentucky Derby. That put the colt just outside the bubble in the equally eligible list. At 8:45 a.m. Friday, Reed was notified that there were no scratches on the court. Disappointed, he still planned to enter Rich Strike into the Peter Pan Stakes. An unexpected last-minute scratch from Ethereal Road, which Dawson told ESPN on May 7, happened “about 30 seconds before the deadline,” put them under the wire.
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In one of the deepest fields in recent history, Rich Strike rose from 20th to overtake favorites like Epicenter, Zandon and Taiba. Leon rode the horse masterfully. He zigzagged and zigzagged through heavy traffic after a rocky start, skirted the rail, picked up some significant ground and passed the competition at the end.
“I never dreamed I would be here,” Reed said. “I never thought I would have a Derby horse. I never tried to go to the yearling sale and buy a Derby horse. So that was never in my plans… It’s a horse race, and anyone can win. And the dashboard means nothing.
He, along with Leon and Dawson, enjoy a spotlight they never expected to shine on them.
In a sport that was crushed after Medina Spirit’s disqualification at last year’s Derby, this was the feel-good story horse racing needed. It would also get national attention if Rich Strike actually won the Triple Crown.
This is a little ahead of us, of course.
For now, let’s enjoy this rich moment in horse racing history when the roses hit an unexpected target and had the world cheering in unison.
Michael Taube, a syndicated Troy Media columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds an MA in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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