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Rich Strike, an 80-1 shot, races to upset in Kentucky Derby

by The Associated Press | May 7, 2022 at 8:53 p.m.
Rich Strike (21), with Sonny Leon aboard, beats Epicenter (3), with Joel Rosario aboard, at the finish line to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. (AP/Mark Humphrey)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While Zandon and Kentucky Derby favorite Epicenter engaged in a duel at the front at Churchill Downs on Saturday, Rich Strike stole the show with the second-biggest upset in the Derby’s 148-year history.

The chestnut colt, an 80-1 shot, beat 4-1 favorite Epicenter by three-quarters of a length. Zandon finished another three-quarters of a length back in third.

“I about fell down in the paddock when he hit the wire,” winning trainer Eric Reed said. “I about passed out.”

Rich Strike paid $163.60. Only Donerail in 1913 had a higher payout of $184.90.

“What a crazy Derby,” said trainer Kenny McPeek, whose horses finished eighth and ninth.

Rich Strike wasn’t even in the Derby until Friday when Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road, making room for the chestnut colt who had just two previous wins in his career.

“We found out about 30 seconds before the deadline on Friday,” owner Rick Dawson said. “It put us in the race and really we always felt if we just got in we’ve got a shot.”

Rich Strike ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.61. After taking a bite out of his much costlier competition, he playfully chomped on the pony guiding him to the winner’s circle.

“I can’t believe it after Epicenter’s effort,” said losing trainer Steve Asmussen, who fell to 0 for 24 in the Derby. “I got beat by the horse that just got in.”

Jockey Sonny Leon and Rich Strike had just two horses beat in the early going. Leon eventually guided his mount between horses and to the inside rail. Rich Strike made a deft move around Messier in the stretch and went right back to the rail intent on picking off Epicenter and Zandon.

“When I was in the last 70 yards, I said, ‘I think I got this race,’” Leon said.

Both Leon, from Venezuela, and Reed were in their first Derby. Reed endured a tragedy five years ago when he lost nearly two dozen horses in a barn fire at his training center in Lexington.

He briefly considered the fire might be a signal for him to leave the sport.

“People I hadn’t seen, people I haven’t talked to in years, my best friends were there in the morning to pick me up,” Reed recalled. “It let me know there’s so much good out there, and then I just decided I wasn’t going to let it take me out.”

Leon regularly rides on some of the country’s smallest circuits, where the horse flesh is inexpensive and the purse money modest. But he matched wits with such veteran riders as Joel Rosario, aboard Epicenter, and Mike Smith, aboard Messier.

Leon’s rail ride was reminiscent of jockey Calvin Borel’s stealth move aboard Mine That Bird in 2009. Mine That Bird sprang what was then the Derby’s third-biggest upset, paying $103.20 to win.

Reed had no argument with the bettors ignoring his colt, whose victory surely inspired little guys everywhere.

“Small trainer, small rider, small stable, he should have been 80-1,” Reed said. “And so anybody that’s in this business, lightning can strike.”

Rich Strike was purchased by Dawson, who races as RED TR-Racing LLC, for $30,000 last fall when the colt was entered in a low-level claiming race by his former owner.

Calumet Farm head Brad Kelley might be ruing that decision now. Calumet Farm has won a record eight Kentucky Derbies, but none since 1968, when Forward Pass was placed first via disqualification.

Rich Strike earned $1.86 million for his first stakes victory. The colt lost to Zandon in the Blue Grass Stakes last month and was beaten by Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby in March.

Simplification finished fourth and Mo Donegal was fifth.

Churchill Downs returned to full capacity, including former President Donald Trump, on the first Saturday in May for the first time in three years.

This story has been updated. It was originally published at 6:31 p.m.

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