Louisville: Anyone anticipating a return to normalcy in the Kentucky Derby got a dose of crazy Saturday when an 80-1 shot came charging up the rail to win at Churchill Downs.
With favorite Epicenter and Zandon engaged in a duel at the front, Rich Strike stole the show with the second-biggest upset in the Derby’s 148-year history.
The chestnut colt beat 4-1 favorite Epicenter by three-quarters of a length. Zandon finished another three-quarters of a length back in third.
“I about fell down in the paddock when he hit the wire,” winning trainer Eric Reed said. “I about passed out.”
“What a crazy Derby,” said trainer Kenny McPeek, whose horses finished eighth and ninth.
Rich Strike wasn’t even in the Derby until Friday when Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road, making room for the chestnut colt who had just two previous wins in his career.
“We found out about 30 seconds before the deadline on Friday,” owner Rick Dawson said. “It put us in the race and really we always felt if we just got in we’ve got a shot.”
Rich Strike ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.61. After taking a bite out of his much costlier competition, he playfully chomped on the pony guiding him to the winner’s circle.
“I can’t believe it after Epicenter’s effort,” said losing trainer Steve Asmussen, who fell to 0 for 24 in the Derby. “I got beat by the horse that just got in.”
Jockey Sonny Leon and Rich Strike had just two horses beat in the early going. Leon eventually guided his mount between horses and to the inside rail. Rich Strike made a deft move around Messier in the stretch and went right back to the rail intent on picking off Epicenter and Zandon.
“When I was in the last 70 yards, I said, `I think I got this race,’” Leon said.
Both Leon, from Venezuela, and Reed were in their first Derby. Reed endured a tragedy five years ago when he lost nearly two dozen horses in a barn fire at his training center in Lexington.
He briefly considered the fire might be a signal for him to leave the sport.
“People I hadn’t seen, people I haven’t talked to in years, my best friends were there in the morning to pick me up,” Reed recalled. “It let me know there’s so much good out there, and then I just decided I wasn’t going to let it take me out.”
Rich Strike earned $1.86 million for his first stakes victory. The colt lost to Zandon in his most recent start last month and was beaten by Epicenter in the John Battaglia Memorial in March.
Simplification finished fourth and Mo Donegal was fifth.