Everything kept going back through Eric Reed’s mind like a never-ending dream, which the trainer of Rich Strike still wasn’t sure about.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Reed, still in shock over Rich Strike’s 80/1 shocking victory in the 148th Kentucky Derby. “At 4 this morning, I was wondering if this was real or if it was a dream. I got home and my kids and their friends were there with champagne. I finally told them at 2:30 I had to go up to bed. I just kept seeing him in my head come up the rail.”
It’s a safe bet that Reed’s recurring, Groundhog Day-esque vision of Rich Strike and jockey Sonny Leon motoring past 14 rivals in the final quarter mile of Saturday’s Derby will never leave. It’s a safe bet that Leon will be riding better horses than claimers at Belterra Park and Mountaineer Park in the near future.
And its likely we’ll see Rich Strike again May 21 at Pimlico Racecourse for the Preakness Stakes. That would be Reed’s first Preakness starter in a training career that began in 1985.
“That’s probably the plan,” Reed told Churchill Downs. “I’m not going to do a whole lot with him and I don’t like to run back quick.”
This was barely a graded-stakes level horse
Even 24 hours later, the improbability of Rich Strike’s snatching and grabbing the Derby still hadn’t sunk in. Rich Strike was the longest shot on the board, opening at 99/1 and dropping to 80/1 by post time. He was in the far outside post in a race lately dictated by early speed. His previous best Beyer Speed Figure was an 84. And that came on the Turfway Park synthetic.
Rich Strike’s previous best Beyer on dirt? A 64. That would frighten nobody in your garden-variety allowance race, never mind the Kentucky Derby.
Instead, Rich Strike chose the Derby as the site for the second biggest upset in Derby history, trailing only Donerail’s 91/1 shocker in 1913. Leon’s ground-saving trip along the rail paid off when the field parted in front of him in the stretch. The $30,000 claimer didn’t understand he wasn’t supposed to pass the elite of his 3-year-old class. So he did, going by the dueling Epicenter – who beat him by 14 lengths in December’s Gun Runner – and Zandon 50 yards from the wire.
Reed saw something in a claiming race
Rich Strike has a new career-best Beyer now: 101. And his second career victory, one book-ending his 17 ¼-length romp in that Churchill Downs claimer that brought him to Reed’s barn, came in America’s most important race.
“When I saw that move at the quarter pole, I told my dad that might get us on the board,” Reed said. “Then, I don’t really remember what happened except my back gave out on me. I ended up on the ground before the horse even crossed the wire. All my friends and family just piled on top of me. They were shaking me and screaming, ‘You won the Derby! You won the Derby!’”
Reed said that Rich Strike came out of his breakout race in good shape. He scarfed down his food, which Reed said is a good sign.
Rich Strike giving Reed his first Preakness starter
“By 10 o’clock last night, he was wanting more,” he said. “He’s walking sound. His legs look great. No issues, no bumps, no bruises that we can see right now. I don’t think he’s dropped much weight either. He came out of the race in really good shape, thank the Lord.”
Reed vanned Rich Strike to his Mercury Training Center near Lexington Sunday morning. He told the Maryland Jockey Club he’s likely to ship to Baltimore by the weekend.
“I’ve never been hard on him,” Reed said. “I space my workouts 10, 12 days instead of seven. I don’t like to run him (back) quick. This will be the first time we’ve had to do that, if this is where it goes. That’s why he’s been so fresh and getting better each race. We haven’t pushed on him. I don’t get these horses 10, 12 a year like him. I get one in a lifetime, so I’ve got to protect him. I’d like him to be here in a couple of years.”