(NewsNation) — This doesn’t happen. Horses at odds of nearly 81-1 don’t win the Kentucky Derby. Jockeys who have never won any big stakes race of any kind don’t win the Kentucky Derby. Owners with fewer than 10 career wins don’t win the Kentucky Derby.
Rich Strike had just one win coming into the race (though, in fairness, it was by 17 1/4 lengths, which is impressive regardless of the level of competition).
Rich Strike and his connections disagree with those sentiments.
One of the biggest upsets in racing history happened Saturday in the Kentucky Derby, when Rich Strike shocked the establishment by running past everyone and winning the first leg of this year’s Triple Crown series.
Those who bet $2 to win on Rich Strike got $163.60 in return. Not bad for about two minutes of work. For jockey Sonny Leon, trainer Eric Reed and owner Rick Dawson, the result was life-changing. Leon was racing Friday at a little-known track in Cincinnati called Belterra Park. Reed’s biggest win before Saturday was with a filly called Satans Quick Chick in a Grade 2 race nearly 12 years ago. Dawson, a half-hour or so after the Derby, rhetorically asked a question to anyone within earshot.
“What planet is this?” Dawson said.
It’s a whole new world that he’s part of now. And a 3-year-old colt that was much closer to last place than first for most of the race Saturday made it all happen.
Even how Rich Strike got into the race was a favor from the gods.
The Kentucky Derby can’t have more than 20 horses in the field. Rich Strike was 21st on the list. If one of the 20 horses that qualified didn’t scratch from the race before 9 a.m. Friday, Rich Strike’s Derby plan would have ended.
When it came to Rich Strike’s performance on the field, however, it was more strategy than luck that carried the first-time winner across the fishline.
Horses are like race cars. There’s a finite amount of fuel in the tank. The faster you burn the fuel, the quicker the tank empties. And that’s exactly what happened in the Kentucky Derby.
Summer Is Tomorrow, for example, was the leader after a quarter-mile, covered that distance in 21.78 seconds — the fastest time in Kentucky Derby history. Except, no horse can sustain that pace for 1 1/4 miles. And Summer Is Tomorrow wound up finishing last in the 20-horse field, 64 1/2 lengths behind Rich Strike.
Such was the case for many horses that Rich Strike ended up passing, as many trainers and jockeys decided their best move was to get close to the lead for the opening portions of the race.
Only, those fuel tanks were emptying far faster than anticipated.
For perspective: At that half-mile mark, Rich Strike was ahead of only two horses. He was sitting in 18th place.
The Preakness is May 21 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, and it would seem like Rich Strike will head there to see if he can move one win away from grabbing the most improbable Triple Crown ever.
“That’s probably the plan,” Reed said Sunday. “I’m not going to do a whole lot with him and I don’t like to run back quick. You get one like this in a lifetime and you have to protect him.”