Long shot only begins to describe Rich Strike's path to Kentucky Derby victory

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Trainer Eric R. Reed's stables destroyed by fire in 2016, long before the colt's birth. The blaze killed 23 horses, but Reed redoubled his efforts.

History will reflect on Rich Strike’s most unlikely of wins Saturday at the Kentucky Derby, where the colt broke away from the pack to finish first with the second-longest odds in the race’s history.

The 3-year-old horse’s circumstances were tilled with uncertainty, from its last-minute entry, to its development under a trainer who has faced equine tragedy, and its new owner’s own questions about remaining in the sport.

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“I was ready to get out of the industry,” owner Richard Dawson of RED TR-Racing, LLC, said after the race. “I was just disenchanted with the whole thing.”

Jockey sonny leon celebrates as he rides rich strike into the winner's circle after horse's win during 148th running of kentucky derby at churchill downs on saturday in louisville, kentucky.
Jockey Sonny Leon celebrates as he rides Rich Strike into the winner's circle after the horse's win during the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky.Jamie Squire / Getty Images

He said working with Derby-winning trainer Eric R. Reed after meeting him through a friend of 35 years helped change his outlook.

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“I like this guy — I’m going to give it another shot,” the owner said.

Reed apparently knows how to persevere in the thoroughbred game. In 2016, he and wife Kay lost 23 horses, predominantly yearlings, that were in their care after a fire burned through facilities at their Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, Kentucky.

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The trainer told an official at the HBPA, the owners’ and trainers’ group founded under the name Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, that he nearly lost everything, the organization said.

The cause was believed to be a lightning strike. Thirteen horses were saved.

The HBPA set up a fund to help Reed reestablish his business, which included racing in Ohio, where Derby winning jockey Sonny Leon, a native of Venezuela, has plied his trade.

Rich Strike was purchased last fall for $30,000 dollars. At the time of the sale he had been entered in a low-level claiming race by its former owner, Calumet Farm, which has won a record eight Derbys.

The colt wasn’t scheduled to run Saturday but squeezed into a starting gate stall after Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road on Friday morning.

“We found out about 30 seconds before the deadline on Friday,” Dawson said. “It put us in the race and really we always felt if we just got in we’ve got a shot.”

The colt’s previous race was at Turfway Park, a Kentucky track in suburban Cincinnati rarely mentioned alongside venues that regularly send horses to Triple Crown races.

Rich Strike’s long odds Saturday have been bested in Derby history only by Donerail’s 1913 win against 91-1 odds. The colt earned $1.86 million in his second victory in an eight-race career.

“We just knew that we had a shot because every time he went longer,” Dawson said, “he got better.”

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