LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In the last five races Rich Strike ran before winning the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, the colt was never in the lead at any point of any race.
He finished third, fifth, third, fourth and third, beaten by an average of nearly six lengths. The last time Rich Strike led in any race was 232 days ago.
In the colt’s last two races — at Turfway Park — Rich Strike was beaten decisively by Tiz the Bomb, who is trained by Kenny McPeek. On Saturday, Rich Strike won the Derby. Tiz the Bomb finished ninth, nearly 13 lengths back.
If anybody could explain the remarkably entertaining absurdity of what happened Saturday at Churchill Downs, I determined McPeek had to be the guy.
“(Rich Strike) had a very good work at Churchill last week,” McPeek said.
There were 19 other horses that had good works at Churchill last week. I needed more.
“Well, that colt obviously loves the track at Churchill,” McPeek said. “He won by 17 lengths his last race here.”
Agreed. But I still needed more. Rich Strike won at 80-1, the second biggest long shot in Derby history.
“I didn’t see that coming,” McPeek said. “When I saw the finish, my first thought was, 'That’s interesting.'
“And then I was just so happy for (winning trainer) Eric Reed. I’ve grown up with him in the game (racing at Turfway Park) and he’s just a good, old school horseman. He’s never had this kind of horse before. He picks his spots and his horses run well.
“It’s horse racing.”
Less than 48 hours after Rich Strike won Derby 148, the story of the winning horse and his connections reads more outlandish today than it did at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. You couldn’t take this script to Hollywood. They’d throw it back.
Kentucky Derby winners are expected to post at least one Beyer Speed figure of 100 (or close to it) before the first Saturday in May. Rich Strike never fast enough to earn a Beyer better than 84.
The road to the Kentucky Derby is supposed to run through Santa Anita, Oaklawn, Gulfstream, Keeneland, Aqueduct or the Fairgrounds.
As a 3-year-old, Rich Strike ran all of his prep races at Turfway Park. He was 26-1 in his final pre-Derby race — the Jeff Ruby Steaks — on April 2. He finished third to Tiz the Bomb and Tawny Port, colts that finished ninth and seventh Saturday.
One Derby horse (Taiba) was purchased for $1.7 million. Messier went for $470,000. Tawny Port cost $430,000, one of seven Derby starters sold for at least $250,000.
When Rich Strike surged into the lead in the final sixteenth of a mile Saturday, he overtook one colt (Epicenter) that sold for $260,000 and another (Zandon) purchased for $170,000.
Rich Strike was claimed for $30,000 on a day when the 2-year-old colt was the 10-1 fourth betting choice at Churchill Downs. That was another McPeek connection. McPeek trained Loonshot, who finished second and was not claimed.
“(Rich Strike) ran out of the screen that day,” McPeek said. “But he wasn’t the favorite. (Paynt Your Wagon was). I’m not sure what prompted Eric to claim him. But, again, good for Eric Reed. He deserves this.”
Calumet Farm, the Lexington horse operation that bred Derby winners like Whirlaway (1941), Citation (1948) and Tim Tam (1958), apparently did not expect greatness from the colt.
Reed and owner Rick Dawson said they claimed the colt because of a string of nice workouts Rich Strike delivered before the colt won by 17 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs that day: Sept. 17, 2021.
Rich Strike goes into the books as the only horse to win the Derby who was claimed. Charismatic, the 1999 Derby winner, passed through a $62,500 claimer in California as a 2-year-old without anybody putting in bid.
How did it happen?
Rich Strike benefited from the absurdly fast early fractions — 21.78 for the first quarter mile, 45:36 after a half mile and 1:10.34 for three-quarters.
Let the record show that the fractions for the first three calls in the 2021 Derby were 23:09, 46.70 and 1:11.21. It was the fastest Derby half mile since 2016 and the fastest opening quarter ever.
Jockey Sonny Leon delivered the clever, patient and courageous Derby ride similar to the one we saw from Calvin Borel when he scored his magical upset aboard Mine That Bird in 2009. Leon took a direct path from the No. 20 post position toward the rail, stayed deep in the pack for the first three-quarters of a mile and then made a series of marvelous moves, weaving in and around tired horses.
By the time jockeys Joel Rosario (on Epicenter) and Flavien Prat (Zandon) realized what was happening, it was over.
And the horse on a five-race losing streak — who had never run a sexy Beyer Speed figure, who prepped at Turfway Park and was claimed for $30,000 — won the Kentucky Derby.
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