80-1 Longshot Strikes It Rich in Derby


Rich Strike | Coady Photography


LOUISVILLE, KY – Credit the Coach with an assist.

Making his way into the field following the late scratch of the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Ethereal Road (Quality Road), also-eligible Rich Strike (Keen Ice) lit up the tote board with an impossible 80-1 upset in Saturday's GI Kentucky Derby. It was three-quarters of a length back to 4-1 favorite Epicenter (Not This Time) in second. Zandon (Upstart) was another three-quarters back in third.

“He passed them all,” winning trainer Eric Reed said. “I'm elated. I'm happy because this horse trained good enough to win. This rider [Sonny Leon] has been on him all along as he learned the process. He taught him to go between horses. He taught me who to train horses [pointing to his father, Herbert]. I'm surrounded by the best. I didn't think I could win necessarily but I knew if he got it, they'd know who he was when the race was over.”

Rich Strike was overlooked for good reason. Claimed for $30,000 by Richard Dawson's RED TR-Racing, LLC and Reed off breeder Calumet Farm out of a 17 1/4-length maiden tally at second asking beneath the Twin Spires Sept. 17, he hadn't gotten his picture taken in five subsequent attempts. He did outrun his odds in his three most recent starts over Turfway's all-weather, however, including a fourth-place finish at 20-1 in the John Battaglia Memorial S. Mar. 5 and a third-place at 26-1 in the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S. Apr. 2. Animal Kingdom was the last to successfully use the Jeff Ruby as a Derby prep, parlaying a win there to wear the roses in 2011.

“What planet is this? I feel like I have been propelled somewhere,” Dawson, an Oklahoma resident and semi-retired from the oil and gas industry, said. “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 okay.”

Rich Strike was far back in 18th and masterfully guided throughout and kept out of traffic by the Ohio-based Leon, who had previously never guided home a graded winner. Rich Strike was immediately taken to the inside in the two path from his high draw as the top two from the G2 UAE Derby Summer Is Tomorrow (Summer Front) and Crown Pride (Jpn) (Reach the Crown {Jpn}) absolutely flew through punishing early fractions of :21.78 and :45.36.

Epicenter and Zandon, meanwhile, quietly began to sneak up into striking position while saving all the ground as Messier (Empire Maker) enjoyed first run heading into the far turn. Epicenter revved up three deep with an explosive move to hit the front at the quarter pole and Zandon followed suit with a menacing bid of his own. The stage was set for the match-up that everyone wanted to see, but Rich Strike had other ideas.

Making steady progress throughout, Leon kept his cool and steered Rich Strike off the rail to avoid the tiring Messier leaving the three-sixteenths. He shot through an inviting opening close to home and reeled in the highly regarded winners of the GII Louisiana Derby and GI Blue Grass S. to pull off the second-biggest upset in the 148 runnings of the Kentucky Derby.

Returning $163.60 to win and keying a $2,050.60 exacta for a buck, Rich Strike's upset trails only Donerail's shocker at 91-1 in 1913. Rich Strike's sire Keen Ice is certainly no stranger to upsets either. He famously took down Triple Crown winner American Pharoah at 16-1 in the 2015 GI Travers S.

“You know we had a difficult post but I know the horse,” Leon said. “I didn't know if he could win but I had a good feeling with him. I had to wait until the stretch and that's what I did. I waited and then the rail opened up. I wasn't nervous, I was excited. Nobody knows my horse like I know my horse.”

Reed and his wife Kay tragically lost 23 horses when their Mercury Training Center went up in flames near Christmas time back in 2016. Reed's only other graded win came with Satans Quick Chick in the GII 2009 Lexus Raven Run S.

“A lot of people don't know who I am, but I was that far from beating Zenyatta in 2012,” Reed said with a laugh. “We've won a graded stake, now two. But we don't go out and buy the big horses. We just try to have a good-quality stable. We always perform well. Our percentages are always good, and we take care of the horse first. And the rest falls into place.

Reed concluded, “I never dreamed I would be here. I never thought I'd have a Derby horse. I never tried to go to the yearling sale and buy a Derby horse. So this was never in my plans. Everybody would love to win the Derby. I always would, but I never thought I would be here, ever. It's a horse race, and anybody can win. And the tote board doesn't mean a thing.”

Pedigree Notes:

So much has been written about the amazing up-and-coming sires with first 3-year-olds in this year's Kentucky Derby, but very little of that print has so much as mentioned Keen Ice, a son of Curlin who also has his first sophomores this year. And no wonder: while the Gun Runners of the racing world were making headlines, he was quietly plying his trade at Central Kentucky's Calumet Farm for $7,500. He stayed under the radar for much of his racing career as well, winning just three of 24 starts. But like his first-crop son, Rich Strike, he set the racing world abuzz with a shocking win and is best known for handing 2015 Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah his sole loss at three in a stunning renewal of the GI Travers S. In hindsight, Keen Ice was a far more substantial racehorse than just that signature win, as he also took the GII Suburban S. at five and placed in five other Grade I races, including the Belmont S. and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Keen Ice's first crop has yielded 30 individual winners from 92 starters and, prior to Rich Strike's Derby, only one black-type winner and that was in Puerto Rico. His five other stakes performers were highlighted by Rich Strike's third in the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S., with no other graded performances in sight.

The most striking thing about Rich Strike's pedigree is undoubtedly Smart Strike. Not only is he the sire of Curlin, he is also the sire of Gold Strike, the dam of Rich Strike, making the Derby winner inbred 3×2 to the Canadian Hall of Famer and son of Mr. Prospector. The late Lane's End sire was a Sam-Son product through and through, being out of U.S. and Canadian Broodmare of the Year Classy 'n Smart (Smarten), who was in turn out of flagship mare No Class (Nodouble). Smart Strike as a Grade I winner wasn't even his dam's best runner, an honor that belonged to his half-sister, Dance Smartly (Danzig), a Canadian Horse of the Year and a U.S. champion. Smart Strike was a two-time leading sire in North America.

Unbelievably, as a broodmare sire, Smart Strike has the distinction of having two of the four biggest longshots in history to win the Derby with Mine That Bird (Birdstone), who paid $103.20 in 2009, also out of one of his daughters. Rich Strike is his 144th stakes winner as a broodmare sire.

Rich Strike's 20-year-old dam was Canada's champion 3-year-old filly in 2005, the year she won the GIII Selene S. and the Labatt Woodbine Oaks. Gold Strike also faced the boys in the Queen's Plate, finishing third. She raced as a homebred for Richard A. N. Bonnycastle's Harlequin Ranches. Bonnycastle, who has a long family history in Canadian racing, is also affiliated with Cavendish Investing and he bred several of Gold Strike's foals in the Cavendish name. His last foal out of the mare was the unraced Stoney Miss (Birdstone) in 2015, soon after her Llanarmon (Sky Mesa) was a graded stakes winner for him, and he sold Gold Strike for $230,000 at Keeneland November that year while in foal to Llanarmon's sire. Calumet Farm was the purchaser.

Calumet is the breeder on record for the mare's 2016 foal, J and J O'Shea (Sky Mesa), who was unraced, and Gold Strike was subsequently sent to Calumet stallions. She got My Blonde Mary (Oxbow) in 2017–who was claimed for $5,000 after finishing third at Tampa Apr. 6–and Rich Strike in 2019. Bred to another Calumet sire, Ransom the Moon, Gold Strike was returned to the Keeneland November sale in 2019 and sold to Tommy Wente for $1,700. The Manitoba-bred mare has not produced a foal since.
–Jill Williams

Saturday, Churchill Downs
KENTUCKY DERBY PRESENTED BY WOODFORD RESERVE-GI, $3,000,000, Churchill Downs, 5-7, 3yo, 1 1/4m, 2:02.61, ft.
1–RICH STRIKE, 126, c, 3, by Keen Ice
1st Dam: Gold Strike (Ch. 3yo Filly-Can, GSW, $564,500), by Smart Strike
2nd Dam: Brassy Gold, by Dixieland Brass
3rd Dam: Panning for Gold, by Search for Gold
1ST BLACK-TYPE WIN, 1ST GRADED STAKES WIN, 1ST GRADE I WIN. O-RED TR-Racing LLC; B-Calumet Farm (KY); T-Eric R Reed; J-Sonny Leon. $1,860,000. Lifetime Record: 8-2-0-3, $1,971,289. *1/2 to Llanarmon (Sky Mesa), GSW, $378,954. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree. Werk Nick Rating: First SW this cross.
2–Epicenter, 126, c, 3, Not This Time–Silent Candy, by Candy Ride (Arg). 1ST G1 BLACK-TYPE. ($260,000 Ylg '20 KEESEP). O-Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC; B-Westwind Farms (KY); T-Steven M Asmussen. $600,000.
3–Zandon, 126, c, 3, Upstart–Memories Prevail, by Creative Cause. ($170,000 Ylg '20 KEESEP). O-Jeff Drown; B-Brereton C Jones (KY); T-Chad C Brown. $300,000.
Margins: 3/4, 3/4, 2. Odds: 80.80, 4.10, 6.10.
Also Ran: Simplification, Mo Donegal, Barber Road, Tawny Port, Smile Happy, Tiz the Bomb, Zozos, Classic Causeway, Taiba, Crown Pride (Jpn), Happy Jack, Messier, White Abarrio, Charge It, Cyberknife, Pioneer of Medina, Summer Is Tomorrow. Scratched: Ethereal Road, Rattle N Roll. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by TVG.

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