He was jockeyed by Venezuelan Sonny León, a rookie, and was included in the race after Ethereal Road’s elimination. It was the biggest upset 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? It 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 stood with a tempting 80-1 in the bets, a far cry from favorites Epicenter (4-1), Taiba (5-1) and Messier (6-1). He didn’t care too much: he took home the top prize of $1.86 million. And he made the bettors surrender the tickets in full.
“We figured it out about 30 seconds before Friday’s deadline. This put us in the race, and we always believed we had a chance,” horse owner Rick Dawson said.
Both León and the horse’s trainer, Eric Reed, competed for the first time in this emblematic race at Churchill Downs (Louisville, Kentucky), where this year the stands were filled again when restrictions were lifted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. .
Leon usually races at smaller tracks, like the one in Ohio, where the purses are modest. This time, he bested established riders like Epicenter’s Joel Rosario and Messier’s Mike Smith.
“I’m very happy, you don’t know how excited I feel”Leon declared. “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 about 20 horses to a stable fire inside his Lexington training center.
Rich Strike stayed to the rear of the main pack 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 victory in the last straight, Rich Strike overtook 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 in second position and Zandon, ridden by Frenchman Flavien Prat and trained by Chad Brown, was third.
“I know my horse and I knew he was ready for this race. I didn’t know whether to win but when we were in the race, towards the end, I felt in my heart that it was hard,” Leon recalled.
“I stayed behind and there was a lot of traffic, but I never got desperate, I found a hole 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 triumph was the biggest surprise 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.
Leon’s escape by the rail was reminiscent of the one undertaken by Calvin Borel, mounting Mine That Bird in 2009, to give another surprise.
Color fact: Rich Strike was acquired 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 has won a record eight Derbys, but not since 1968, when Forward Pass went first by disqualification.
An undervalued 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 packed the stands after it was only allowed to reach 60% capacity last year and was 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 corticosteroid banned before a race, and died suddenly in December during training in California.
His trainer, Bob Baffert, has been suspended and banned from Churchill Downs for two years.
It was the third time in Derby history that a winner was disqualified.
The Triple Crown will resume with the Preakness (Baltimore, Maryland) on May 21 and conclude with the Belmont Stakes (New York) on June 11.