He was jockeyed by Venezuelan Sonny León, a rookie, and was included in the race after Ethereal Road’s elimination. It was the biggest surprise in terms of odds since 1913.
In one of the major surprises of recent years, the thoroughbred Rich Strikewith the Venezuelan rider Sonny León, won this Saturday in the 148th edition of the Derby de Kentuckyone of the classics of the Triple Crown of turf in the United States. Why the surprise? He was the last positioned in the bets and for that reason, the one that paid the most.
Rich Strike was not going to run the test. He was able to enter the competition on Friday, through the window, after the elimination of Ethereal Road. For that reason, he was sitting at a tempting 80-1 in the betting, far behind the favorites Epicenter (4-1), Taiba (5-1) and Messier (6-1). He didn’t care too much: he took the top prize of $1.86 million. And he made the bettors surrender the tickets in full.
“We found out about 30 seconds before the deadline on Friday. This put us in the race, and we always thought we had a chance,” said the horse’s owner, Rick Dawson.
Both León and the horse’s trainer, Eric Reed, were competing for the first time in this emblematic race at the Churchill Downs racetrack (Louisville, Kentucky), where this year the grandstands were filled again as restrictions were lifted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. .
León usually races at smaller racetracks, like the one in Ohio, where the purses are modest. This time, he edged out established jockeys like Epicenter’s Joel Rosario and Messier’s Mike Smith.
“I’m very happy, you don’t know how excited I feel”declared Leon. “It was my first Kentucky Derby and we did it. It’s a dream come true.”
Reed, the winning trainer, experienced a tragedy five years ago, when he lost twenty horses to a fire in a stable inside his training center in Lexington.
Rich Strike stayed at the rear of the main group for most of the race, but managed to carve out space on the inside and find a clear path for a dazzling final sprint.
When it seemed that Zandon and Epicenter, with the Dominican jockey Joel Rosario, were fighting for the victory in the last stretch, Rich Strike passed them from behind and sealed the victory in the last strides with a time of 2:02.61 to cover the mile and a quarter of the racetrack .
Epicenter, trained by Steve Asmussen, finished second and Zandon, ridden by Frenchman Flavien Prat and groomed by Chad Brown, was third.
“I know my horse and I knew that I was ready for this race. I didn’t know if to win but when we were in the race, towards the end, I felt in my heart that it was tough,” Leon recalled.
“I stayed behind and there was a lot of traffic, but I never despaired, I found a gap and when I got to the last 70 yards I thought I had this race and I had to run more than ever,” he explained.
Rich Strike’s win was the biggest upset in terms of odds since 1913, when Donerail, 91-1, won this race, the first of three that make up the so-called Triple Crown of American horse racing.
León’s escape next to the rail recalled the one undertaken by Calvin Borel, riding Mine That Bird in 2009, to give another surprise.
Color fact: Rich Strike was purchased by Dawson, who races as RED TR-Racing, for $30,000 last fall after the colt was entered by his previous owner in a minor race.
Brad Kelley, the head of the Calumet farm, must be regretting that decision. Previous owner Calumet won a record eight Derbys, but none since 1968, when Forward Pass went first by disqualification.
An underrated classic
The Kentucky Derby was played again under traditional conditions this Saturday by allowing a full 20 participants and the public. Some 100,000 fans filled the stands after only being allowed to reach 60% capacity last year and held behind closed doors in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The race was also held under the shadow of last year’s scandal, when the winner, Medina Spirit, was later disqualified for failing a doping test.
The horse tested positive for betamethasone, a banned corticosteroid before a race, and died suddenly during training in California in December.
His trainer, Bob Baffert, has been suspended and has been banned from Churchill Downs for two years.
It was the third time in Derby history that a winner had been disqualified.
The Triple Crown will resume with the Preakness event (Baltimore, Maryland) on May 21 and conclude with the Belmont Stakes (New York) on June 11.