Today's Paper Latest Elections Sports Core Values Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive Story ideas iPad

OPINION | WALLY HALL: Rich Strike stole the show on biggest stage

by Wally Hall | May 10, 2022 at 3:33 a.m.

It was the perfect storm in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday.

Cinderella, in horseshoes, stole the ball.

Miss Congeniality won the Miss America title.

It was almost a rags-to-riches story.

There were four components, and all were equally important to the Kentucky Derby stealing front-page headlines. A story so compelling that it was still being discussed two days later.

Start with Rich Strike, the 3-year-old colt no one had heard of before he sprinted past favorite Epicenter, a $260,000 purchase who had already banked more than $1 million in purses, and Zandon, who had never finished off the board, to win the 148th Kentucky Derby.

Second only to Donerail in 1913 as far as long shots go.

The short version of his racing story is that he was bred at famed Calumet Farms, and after he ran 10th by more than 14 lengths he was given up on and put in a $30,000 claiming race at Churchill Downs, which he won by more than 17 lengths. In his next five races, the best he could do was finish third three times.

He had been at Turf Paradise, a mid-level track in Phoenix, and was on the also eligible list for the Derby, which he got in the day before the race.

Owner Rich Dawson is semi-retired from the gas and oil industry in Oklahoma.

On a country club golf course outside Edmond, Okla., he decided to mark something off his bucket list: Become a horse owner. He hadn't lost much or made much money until Saturday when Rich Strike returned $1.8 million for his $30,000 investment just seven months earlier.

Trainer Eric Reed has captured the imagination of every sports writer in the country.

He's been in the business he learned from his father all his life but mostly at tracks close to someplace.

In 2016, a barn on his farm in Kentucky caught fire and killed 23 horses. He said he thought his career was over until people from all over the country, including some of the big-name trainers, reached out to him.

He was introduced to Dawson and they clicked.

Until Rich Strike, Reed had trained the sum total of one graded stakes winner.

He stole the scene Saturday when he said he almost passed out when his horse crossed the finish line first. He was watching it on a big-screen TV because there was no room in the front row inn for a trainer who gets in the day before the race.

Reed seemed about as comfortable in the limelight as a frog in a punch bowl.

Now he's headed to Pimlico for the Preakness. Reed has never raced a horse in Baltimore.

Finally, there's 32-year-old jockey Sonny Leon, a native of Venezuela.

Leon had never ridden in a Grade I stakes race. In fact, he rode mostly at small tracks that feature $5,000 claiming races.

Leon had ridden Rich Strike in his four previous races, and the closest they had been to winning was 3 lengths in a fourth-place finish.

Leon schooled the Hall of Fame jockeys.

At the start, he was unhurried and moved outside to inside and at one time was 18th.

With a quarter of a mile to go he was 15th, but he made his move, going through and around traffic like a New York City cab driver.

He knew the early pace had been blistering -- Summer Is Tomorrow covered the first half in 43.56 -- and saw the horses in front of him hitting the proverbial wall.

Finally, he went around Messier and then settled just off the rail. As everyone, even the track announcer, was focused on the duel between Epicenter and Zandon, Leon popped his whip three times to propel Rich Strike to the promised land.

It was fantasy come true and may be the sports story of the year.

Print Headline: Rich Strike stole the show on biggest stage


Sponsor Content