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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Rich Strike made it an unforgettable party

by Wally Hall | May 8, 2022 at 2:41 a.m.


It is billed as the fastest two minutes in sports.

Give or take a few seconds, the Kentucky Derby is the biggest thoroughbred racing event in the world.

Many have tried to copy it, all have failed. It is like the NCAA Basketball Tournament: It can't be challenged.

For most, it is a party that starts in the morning and ends at night. The same is now true with the Kentucky Oaks on Friday.

If you aren't into binge eating and drinking, it can be like a middle seat in coach on a 12-hour flight with nothing to read but "Atlas Shrugged."

The Derby card is incredible and people from all over the world pay big bucks for seats, bigger bucks for boxes, even bigger bucks for suites and biggest bucks to be atop Churchill Downs in a large private room.

To make it perfectly clear, that's where guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning sit.

After two years of covid-19 changes and restrictions, the Derby was back in full swing Saturday with a reported attendance of more than 150,000 who ate, drank and bet for the hour or so between races.

This was one of the most challenging Derbies to handicap as there was no less than 10 horses -- half the field -- that looked like they could win.

No one was talking about Rich Strike, unless it was because he made the field the day before the Derby when Etheral Road was scratched.

He paid $163.60 on a $2 win ticket, making him the second-longest shot in Derby history.

A $30,000 purchase last year and $7,500 as a yearling, Rich Strike stunned the blue-bloods when in the last 50 yards he went by co-favorite Epicenter like he was standing still.

Rich Strike is trained by Eric Reed, who lost 23 horses in 2016 in a barn fire and didn't know if he would ever train again.

Rich Strike had only five horses beat going into the turn to home, but jockey Sonny Leon weaved through the heavy traffic, avoiding tiring horses.

He used the rail to his advantage and rallied like his hair was on fire on the inside of Epicenter and Zandon, the strong closer and the pick of many of the NBC experts.

Leon only used the whip three times in the final 50 yards, but he kept it where his mount could see it.

The only other time Rich Strike won a race was when he broke his maiden last September. It was his only other race at Churchill, and he won by 17 1/2 lengths.

That's a horse for a course.

The blue bloods can take some solace in the fact that Rich Strike was bred at historic Calumet Farms and his grandpa is Curlin.

An 80-1 shot winning was the only crazy thing as the Kentucky Derby made the transition to normalcy after two covid-19 meets.

And any drama about Bob Baffert not being allowed on the track because of a suspension wasn't even a ripple in the day.

For those of us watching from the comfort of home -- where there were no lines for food, beverages or rooms to rest in -- NBC mentioned it and did an interview with a Churchill official who said it was the culmination of failed drug tests by Baffert-trained horses that made them decide to take the action.

Baffert's Shedaresthedevil won the Kentucky Oaks in 2020 but tested positive a drug banned on race day.

The network had to mention it, but it left no doubt -- even with all the success Baffert has had, how he became the face of thoroughbred racing and probably one of the most powerful figures in the business -- no one is bigger than the Kentucky Derby.

On Saturday, the 148th Kentucky Derby went in the books as another success and the Derby could and should be a movie some day.


Print Headline: Rich Strike made it an unforgettable party

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