Rich Strike, ridden by Sonny Leon, wins the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday. Photo by Mark Abraham/UPI | License Photo
May 7 (UPI) -- The Kentucky Derby has seen some odd things in the past several years, but none more shocking than the image of Rich Strike rallying up the rail through the final furlong to score an 80-1 upset victory -- the second biggest surprise in the 148-year-history of America's biggest race.
Rich Strike wasn't even in the race on Friday morning, drawing in only when Ethereal Road was scratched just seconds before the deadline. As a result, he started from the outside, No. 20 gate.
The Keen Ice colt was so undervalued by his breeder, storied Calumet Farm, that he was put into a claiming race in his second start last September, where he was taken for $30,000 by trainer Eric Reed.
Rich Strike's last three races were over the all-weather surface at Turfway Park and before that, he had finished fifth, beaten 14 lengths, in his last start as a 2-year-old at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
Those were among the negatives facing unheralded jockey Sonny Leon as Rich Strike was the last horse loaded into 20-horse starting gate at Churchill Downs. Immediately after the gate opened, the colt and rider started seeing positives.
The first plus was Summer Is Tomorrow, a shipper from Dubai, blazing out to set the fastest quarter-mile pace in the history of the Kentucky Derby with Japanese rival Crown Pride chasing right behind.
The second was a sweet spot for himself as the field strung out behind that speed, avoiding the typical Derby traffic jams.
Summer Is Tomorrow was done early, but Crown Pride hung around into the stretch. As he gave way in turn, the favorite, Louisiana Derby winner Epicenter, and Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon looked like the race was between them.
But Rich Strike, a confirmed late-runner, was just getting going. Leon dropped him to the rail, asked for everything he had, and the colt ran by his blue-blooded rivals to win by 3/4 length.
His 80-1 odds made him the second-biggest upsetter in the history of the race behind only Donerail, who won in 1913 at odds of 91-1, according to Churchill Downs' record books.
Epicenter and Zandon held second and third, respectively, with Fountain of Youth winner Simplification fourth.
"I can't believe it after Epicenter's effort," said Epicenter's trainer, Steve Asmussen, who has won more races than any other American trainer, but still has not won the Derby. "And, the scenario in which I went 0-for-24, you couldn't make up. I got beat by the horse that just got in."
Trainer Chad Brown also hoped he would win his first Derby with Zandon. "He just snuck up the inside and we were third-best," he lamented.
Rich Strike was so feisty after the race that he repeatedly tried to savage the lead pony struggling to bring him from the backstretch toward the winner's circle. The NBC-TV on-track reporter dared not get near him with a microphone for the usual post-race interview.
While most of the 150,000-plus spectators at Churchill Downs were stunned, Reed was floored -- literally. Asked how his horse had accomplished the feat, he replied: "I don't know. I fell down in the paddock when he hit the wire."
"He passed them all," Reed said after collecting himself. "I'm elated. I'm happy because this horse trained good enough to win. This rider has been on him all along as he learned the process. He taught him to go between horses."
Owner Rich Dawson said he wasn't surprised.
"We would never, ever put a horse in a race we didn't think we could win," Dawson said.
"We knew we had a shot because every time he went longer he got better. Today, we went a mile and a quarter and he kept going. It's like winning the Super Bowl and maybe even better. You only have one player here."
Dawson obviously failed to warn the bettors about his horse's chances because the payouts were ridiculous: A $2 win ticket was worth $163.60; a $2 exacta bet returned $4,101.20; a $2 trifecta win was worth $7,435.35; and a $1 superfecta -- the first four finishers in order -- rewarded crystal ball gazers with $321,500.10. That's all before the IRS took its share up front.
When they thought they weren't going to make it into the Run for the Roses, Rich Strike's connections were ready to ship him to Belmont Park to run in another 3-year-old race, the Jim Dandy.
Now, they're looking at a trip to Baltimore for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, and the stall traditionally reserved at Pimlico Racecourse for the Derby winner.
Asked his chances for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Reed said, "I think they're real good."
Meantime, many of the participants in Kentucky Derby 148 were still scratching their heads, including Kenny McPeek, who saddled Smile Happy to finish eighth and Tiz the Bomb to report ninth.
"What a crazy Derby," McPeek said. "I'll have to watch the replay and see how it all unfolded."
Rich Strike, with jockey Sonny Leon aboard, crosses the finish line to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby
at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo