In one of the great surprises of recent years, the exemplary Rich Strike, with the Venezuelan jockey Sonny León, won this Saturday in the 148th edition of the Kentucky Derby, where he was the last positioned in the bets.
Rich Strike was barely included in the race on Friday, after Ethereal Road’s elimination, and stood at 80-1 in the betting, a long way behind favorites Epicenter (4-1), Taiba (5-1) and Messier. (6-1).
Both León and the horse’s trainer, Eric Reed, competed for the first time in this emblematic race at Churchill Downs (Louisville, Kentucky), where this year the stands were filled again when restrictions were lifted due to the covid-19 pandemic. .
"I’m very happy, you don’t know how excited I feel"Leon declared. "It was my first Kentucky Derby and we made it. It is a dream come true".
Rich Strike stayed for most of the race at the back of the main pack, but managed to carve out space on the inside and find a clear path for a dazzling final sprint.
When it seemed that Zandon and Epicenter, with the Dominican jockey Joel Rosario, were fighting for the victory in the last stretch, Rich Strike passed them from behind and sealed the victory in the last strides with a time of 2:02.61.
Epicenter, trained by Steve Asmussen, finished in second position and Zandon, ridden by Frenchman Flavien Prat and trained by Chad Brown, was third.
"I know my horse and I knew he was ready for this race. I didn’t know whether to win but when we were in the race, towards the end, I felt in my heart that it was hard"Leon remembered.
"I stayed behind and there was a lot of traffic, but I never gave up, I found a gap and when I got to the last 70 yards I thought I had this race and I had to run more than ever"he explained.
Rich Strike’s win was the biggest upset in terms of odds since 1913, when Donerail, 91-1, won this race, the first of three that make up the so-called Triple Crown of American horse racing.
– No restrictions due to pandemic – The Kentucky Derby was held again under traditional conditions this Saturday by allowing a full 20 participants and the public.
Some 100,000 fans packed the stands after it was only allowed to reach 60% capacity last year and was held behind closed doors in 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic.
The race was also held under the shadow of last year’s scandal, when the winner, Medina Spirit, was later disqualified for failing a doping test.
The horse tested positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid banned before a race, and died suddenly in December during training in California.
His trainer, Bob Baffert, has been suspended and banned from Churchill Downs for two years.
It was the third time in Derby history that a winner was disqualified.
The Triple Crown will resume with the Preakness (Baltimore, Maryland) on May 21 and conclude with the Belmont Stakes (New York) on June 11.