Rich Strike shocks the horse racing world with stunning Kentucky Derby upset win

Sonny Leon celebrates after riding Rich Strike past the finish line to win the 148th running.
Sonny Leon celebrates after riding Rich Strike to victory in the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

The beauty of sports is when something you never see coming happens, defying all logic and understanding. That’s what happened Saturday in the 148th Kentucky Derby.

Rich Strike, the horse with the longest odds, stunned the racing world with a smart ride on the inside after starting from the farthest outside post and then bolting from the back of the pack to blow by the crowd favorites and win by three-quarters of a length.

The colt clearly didn’t know that deep closers are not supposed to win the Kentucky Derby.


The horse was lucky to even be in the race. He got in Friday morning when Ethereal Road scratched. Rich Strike carried the saddle cloth of the 21 in the 20-horse race. It was only his second win in eight starts. His last three races were on a synthetic surface, not dirt. There was really very little to make anyone think the 80-1 shot had a chance.

Rich Strike overcame 80-1 odds to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Here’s how the race unfolded.

May 7, 2022

It was the second graded stakes win for trainer Eric Reed and first for jockey Sonny Leon.

“I didn’t think we’d win this necessarily, but I knew if he got in, they would know who he was when the race was over,” Reed said. “When the gate opened, Sonny immediately took him over and saved all the ground. In the middle of the turn, I lost him for a brief second and then I saw him in the stretch and I passed out. I don’t remember what happened after that.”

Rich Strike paid $163.60 on bets he would win, $74.20 on bets he would place (finish first or second) and $29.40 on bets he would show (finish in the top three). Epicenter was second followed by Zandon, Simplification, Mo Donegal, Barber Road, Tawny Port, Smile Happy, Tiz The Bomb, Zozos, Classic Causeway, Taiba, Crown Pride, Happy Jack, Messier, White Abarrio, Charge It, Cyberknife, Pioneer Of Medina and Summer Is Tomorrow.

It was the second-highest-priced horse to win the Derby, almost eclipsing the $184.90, set by Donerail in 1913.

The race started with Summer Is Tomorrow and Crown Pride going to the front with blistering fractions of 21.48 seconds for the first quarter and 45.36 for the half. Messier was in a comfortable position right off the lead. Leaving the far turn, Epicenter and Messier moved to the front with Zandon starting to rally. Messier then started to back up and by the stretch, Rich Strike had moved into third.

Rich Strike spent a lot of the 1¼-mile race near the back of the pack and was still 15th after a mile. Most eyes at Churchill Downs were on Epicenter and Zandon as Leon had moved Rich Strike to about the three path with the leading pair to his outside. Then the little-known colt blew past them on his historic run.

Rich Strike was bought out of a maiden claiming race for $30,000 on Sept. 17 after winning his second start. The race was at Churchill Downs. It seems he likes this racing surface.

Rich Strike, with jockey Sonny Leon aboard, crosses the finish line to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Rich Strike, with jockey Sonny Leon aboard, crosses the finish line to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)
Rich Strike, right, leads Epicenter, center, and Zandon to the finish line to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

“What planet is this?” owner Rick Dawson asked when questioned how he was feeling. “I feel like I have been propelled somewhere. I’m not sure. This is unbelievable. I asked my trainer up on the stage, I said, ‘Are you sure this is not a dream? Because it can’t be true.’ He assured me this is real. I said OK.”

Reed has 8,287 fewer wins than the all-time leading trainer Steve Asmussen, who saddled Epicenter. But, Reed has one more Kentucky Derby win.

“I can’t believe it after Epicenter’s effort,” Asmussen said. “And, the scenario in which I went 0 for 24, you couldn’t make up. I got beat by the horse that just got in.”

Chad Brown, who trained Zandon, also left the race looking for his first Derby win.

“We really had a great trip,” Brown said. “Epicenter was in front of us closer to the pace and [jockey] Flavien [Prat] really just followed [Epicenter jockey] Joel [Rosario] all the way. Turning for home he was in a great position and was really battling with Epicenter. [Rich Strike] just snuck up our inside and we were third best.”

Sonny Leon celebrates atop Rich Strike after winning the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)
Jockey Sonny Leon celebrates atop Rich Strike in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Reed almost gave up training in 2016 when a fire swept through his Mercury Equine Center in Kentucky, killing 23 horses.

“I thought of all the years and all the stuff we’ve done to get this beautiful farm and have this happen, it’s telling me it’s the end of the line,” Reed said. “About the third or fourth day when people started showing up from states and people who didn’t know who I was let me know there is so much good out there ...

“A few trainers, big, big trainers sent me texts and told me ‘Don’t let this take you out.’ … That kept me going and I decided it wasn’t going to take me out. Thank God we’re here today.”

Where Reed will be in a little more than a week is likely Baltimore, where Rich Strike will be running in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse. But trainers and owners never get too far ahead of themselves.


“Let’s see how he is tomorrow, but that’s obviously the spot we got to look at,” Reed said. “And we’ll see how he is, and we’ll make the call in a few days.”

That’s a plan everyone can see coming.