Friday, March 1, 2024

Kentucky Derby Upset: 80-1 Rich Strike Pulls Off a Stunner for the Ages

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Posted on: May 7, 2022, 04:29h. 

Last updated on: May 7, 2022, 07:25h.

As the horses in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby came before the crowd for the second and final time, it looked like a classic duel was shaping up between Epicenter and Zandon, two of the favorites in the race. But they never saw Rich Strike coming.

Rich Strike
Rich Strike (inside, lavender saddle cloth) chases down Epicenter (center) and Zandon in the final strides to win the 148th Kentucky Derby Saturday. At 80-1, he’s the second-longest longshot to win the race. (Image:

Nobody did.

The horse that wasn’t in the field until the actual last second and went off at 80-1 turned a classic Kentucky Derby into an epic one. Jockey Sonny Leon guided Rich Strike through the field and found daylight on the rail down the stretch to beat Epicenter, the post-time favorite by three-quarters of a length.

Paying $163.60 to win on a $2 bet, Rich Strike was the second-biggest longshot to win the Derby. Only Donerail, who went off at 91-1 in 1913, paid bettors a higher price. Rich Strike, a $30,000 claimer, paid $74.20 to place, and $29.40 to show.

Epicenter, who went off at 4-1 odds, paid $7.40 and $5.20. Morning-line favorite Zandon, who went off at 6-1, paid $5.60 for third.

The epic upset produced a $4,101.20 exacta on a $2 bet, and $7,435.35 for a 50-cent trifecta. The $1 superfecta paid $321,500.10, and there was just $1 super-high-five winner that received $741,018.90.

‘Lightning’ Strikes

In the paddock as he saw his horse make his move for the win, trainer Eric Reed collapsed. A trainer for nearly 40 years, Reed has won more than 1,400 races, but the Derby marked just his second graded stakes win.

Reed was more than OK.

Reed admitted that “on paper” his colt should have been 80-1. Rich Strike hadn’t won since breaking his maiden last year in a 17-1/2-length romp here at Churchill Downs. His last race was last month at Turfway Park, where he finished third in the Jeff Ruby Steaks.

I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve had some really nice horses,” Reed said. “We knew what we had. I’m not telling you by any means we knew we had a Derby winner, but if we didn’t think we were going to be in the Derby, we wouldn’t have been prepping for this year. We knew we had a horse that was capable of running good, and so anybody that’s in this business, lightning can strike.”

That third-place on April 2 finish gave Rich Strike 20 Derby qualifying points and a fourth-place finish a month earlier in a Turfway stakes race gave him another point. With other horses coming off the Derby trail, that left Rich Strike as the first alternate when the post positions were drawn Monday.

Reed and owner Rick Dawson entered their colt knowing it would take a late scratch by no later than 9 am Friday morning to get Rich Strike in the race.

By 8:45 am Friday, Reed said he received word that the field would be set. But as he broke the news to his team, word came down that Ethereal Road was scratched at the last minute. So, in the field of 20, Rich Strike became betting option 21.

A day and a half later, he made history.

Some Nevada Bettors Also Strike It Rich

Rich Strike wasn’t just a massive underdog in the parimutuel pools. Out in Nevada, the colt was among the longest of long shots on Kentucky Derby futures boards.

At Circa Sports, Rich Strike drew odds of +30000, or 300-1, on the futures board during the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races. When he was entered into the Derby on Friday, he immediately became the longest shot, and at some point Saturday, he was available at +20000 at the Las Vegas-based sportsbook.

People like putting a few bucks on the longest shots on the board,” Circa oddsmakers Paul Zilm told “Some people are very happy tonight.”

At Baldini’s in Sparks, a bettor 30 minutes before the race put $10 on Rich Strike at +9900.

How the Kentucky Derby was Won

By virtue of being an also-eligible, Rich Strike was assigned the far outside gate when he entered the race. That’s the rule in the Kentucky Derby. It also, coincidentally, happened to be Ethereal Road’s post position.

On Friday, when Reed was asked about his best-case scenario, he said he wanted Leon and Rich Strike to pick up the field “midway through the backstretch and then pass them all before the finish line.”

At the start of the race, Leon held Rich Strike back as the pack converged. Entering the first turn, they were 18th and 17 lengths off the leaders. With a half-mile left, he was still 18th, but only 11 lengths back.

At the mile pole, the pack tightened. Rich Strike was 15th, but he was less than five-lengths back. By the time the horses hit the stretch, Epicenter had the lead and Zandon was closing in on him. Leon moved Rich Strike through the the traffic, but they were still a couple lengths back of the leaders.

The advantage Rich Strike had was he was on the rail and had a clear shot at the leaders running down the middle of the track.

“Fifteen gallops before the wire, I say, ‘I think I got the race. I got to push him more, harder than ever,’” Leon said. “That’s what I did.”

The crowds in the grandstand and the infield weren’t the only ones surprised by the result.

“Everything was perfect,” said Epicenter jockey Joel Rosario. “We thought we were home. Too bad that horse got us right at the end. I thought Epicenter ran a tremendous race. He did everything. He responded when I asked him. We ran too good to get beat.”

Getting Their Shot

Reed and Leon may not race in the same circles as the top-name trainers and jockeys in the sport, but they’re still successful in the sport. Only 10 jockeys in the US had more wins last year than Leon, and Reed finished in the top 50 in wins for a trainer in 2021.

Reed called Leon his “number one rider” and when the Derby was becoming a possibility, neither he nor Dawson wanted to take him off the mount.

“The difference between the Sonny Leons and the guys everybody sees every day is they ride those horses all the time,” Reed said. “He doesn’t get a chance… He’s a great rider with a lot of courage, but he has a very smart head and a good sense of pace.”

Provided Rich Strike responds well coming out of the race, he’ll likely head now to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes. It remains to be seen what his odds will be in that race.


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