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Derby upset just what racing needed

by The Associated Press | May 9, 2022 at 3:00 a.m.

LOUISVILLE -- No, said Eric Reed, he had not slept.

Yes, he said, it was all starting to sink in.

And then as the sun rose over Barn 17 at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning, the trainer of surprise Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike summed up the previous day perfectly.

"I don't know what I can say," Reed said, "other than it's an absolute miracle."

A needed miracle, actually. For a sport that has suffered more than its fair share of bad publicity over the last few years, to have the Cinderella story of an 80-1 shot win the "Run for the Roses" was just what the doctor ordered.

Bred by Calumet Farm and claimed by the 57-year-old Reed for $30,000 last year for owner Rick Dawson, Rich Strike gained entry to the 20-horse Derby field only after Ethereal Road scratched on Friday morning. Rich Strike began Saturday morning with odds of 99-1 before ending up as the second-longest shot to ever win the race, behind only 91-1 Donerail in 1913.

"Everything went right for him to win," Reed said Sunday. "It was a crazy pace. And then at the quarter pole, the waters parted and he got through."

Summer Is Tomorrow set a blistering pace scenario, covering the first half mile of the race in 43.56 seconds. When the front-runners faded, room was made for the so-called closers to pass tired horses. None, however, closed as fast as Rich Strike. After jockey Sonny Leon maneuvered around a spent Messier in the stretch, Rich Strike had a clear shot at leaders Epicenter and Zandon, beating Epicenter by three-quarters of a length.

"(I've watched the replay) twice," said the trainer. "I guess I got one (announcer's) call right at the end when he crossed the line."

The replay was actually the first time Reed had seen the finish.

"I told my father that might get us on the board," Reed said of the move past Messier. "In deep stretch I said, 'Oh my gosh.' I fell down. I didn't see him hit the finish line."

As Rich Strike proudly stood behind his trainer, Reed said the Derby champ would return to his home base, the Mercury Equine Center off Russell Cave Road in Lexington, on Sunday for a few days before heading to Baltimore for the Preakness.

It will be the first time Reed has raced a horse at Pimlico. He has raced in Kentucky, New York, Florida, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but never in Baltimore. In fact, before Saturday, the trainer had conditioned just one graded stakes winner, Satans Quick Chick, who won the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland in 2009.

"We came within a neck of taking out the great Zenyatta a few years back," Reed said of Rinterval's second-place finish in the 2010 Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar. "That was a thrill of a lifetime."

Saturday topped that and then some, even if much was made of the way Rich Strike aggressively champed at the lead pony after the race.

"I think when the race was over, he saw the pony and he thought he had another horse to beat," Reed said. "I don't think he meant it in the way some people thought."

Despite the cool, cloudy weather, a crowd of 147,294 attended the first Derby without covid restrictions since 2019. Wagering for the day's program totaled a record $273.8 million, a 17% increase over 2021 and a 9% jump from the 2019 record of $250.9 million.

All in all, Saturday's race and Rich Strike's underdog story proved a pleasing about-face from the mess of last year's drug disqualification of Medina Spirit and two-year suspension of trainer Bob Baffert.

Even Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, a critic of the sport, released a statement Saturday night saying, in part, "American horse racing is closer to getting back on the right track."

Surely, race fans would agree.

"We were just trying to get here," Eric Reed said. "It just went a step further than we would have ever dreamed."

Print Headline: Derby upset just what racing needed

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