80-1 miracle

Rich Strike perfectly named.

Rich Strike — Perfect name for a perfect payout.

A chestnut colt that was purchased for $30,000 won a staggering $1.86 million in his first stakes victory.

The 80-1 longshot Rich Strike came charging from the rear of the pack to win the Kentucky Derby in the second-biggest upset in the Derby’s 148-year history.

Saturday’s victory was nothing short of a miracle. Rich Strike was entered in the Derby on Friday just 30 seconds before the entry deadline when Ethereal Road was scratched at the last minute, opening up a spot in the gate.

Only a horse called Donerail way back in 1913 topped Rich Strike’s odds when he won at 90-1. The third biggest longshot was Mine That Bird in 2009 at 50-1.

As the 20-horse field roared down the stretch all eyes were on the favorite Epicenter and hotshot closer Zandon who were locked in a tight duel.

Then, like a flash, Rich Strike charged out of nowhere and beat them all in the last strides.

Rich Strike perfectly named

The horse was ridden by Sonny Leon, a Venezuelan jockey in his first big stakes race who normally rides the smallest circuits where the purse is a fraction of the Derby payout.

“When I was in the last 70 yards, I said, ‘I think I got this race,’” Leon said.

Rich Strike perfectly named.
Winning jockey Sonny Leon

“I about fell down in the paddock when he hit the wire,” said the trainer Eric Reed, also in his first Derby. “I about passed out.”

Reed almost gave up his career five years ago when he lost nearly two dozen horses in a fire in his barn in Lexington, Kentucky. But he said the kindness of friends and fellow trainers kept him going.

Rich Strike perfectly named.
Trainer Eric Reed (left), Jockey Sonny Leon and owner Rick Dawson after their historic win.

Rich Strike was purchased last fall by Rick Dawson, who races under the handle RED TR-Racing, for $30,000 after the colt was entered in a low-level claiming race.

“Small trainer, small rider, small stable,” Reed said. “And so anybody that’s in this business, lightening can strike.”


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Big Red

The Kentucky Derby to be held on Saturday is called the most exciting two minutes in sports.

Make that one minute and 59 seconds in the case of Secretariat — 1:59-2/5 to be exact.

The record set by the big chestnut stallion for the 1-1/4 miles (10 furlongs) at Churchill Downs in 1973 still stands today.

As does Secretariat’s winning time of 1:53 in the 1-3/16 mile (9.5 furlongs) Preakness in Baltimore.

As does his 2:24 stunning victory in the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes (12 furlongs) in New York, the longest of the Triple Crown races. Secretariat ran away with that race with an astounding winning margin of 31 lengths.

Secretariat still holds record.

The Beyer Speed Figure hadn’t been developed at that time, but had it been, Andrew Beyer calculated that Secretariat would have earned a figure of 139, the highest by far ever assigned.

All three Triple Crown race records still belong to Secretariat.

Secretariat still holds the record

Ron Turcotte, Secretariat’s jockey in all three races, said his plan in the Belmont was to sit behind second favorite Sham, ridden by Laffit Pincay, in the early going.

“That changed when I felt the power beneath me and Secretariat broke sharply,” he said. “I never felt such strength under me as I did that day. We were flying along. His stride was beautiful. His breathing was good. The only encouragement I gave him was to occasionally whisper in his ear, ‘Easy boy.’ With seventy yards to go, I chirped to him to make sure he did not lose focus. He responded by finding still another gear.”

And as he did, the crowd of 70,000 went wild. The race caller Chic Anderson was incredulous.

“Secretariat is widening now,” said Anderson, the excitement mounting in his voice. “He is moving like a tremendous machine.”


Ron Turcotte is now 80 years old and lives in his native New Brunswick, Canada.

Big Red passed away in 1989 at age of 19. He is buried at historic Claiborne Farm in the heart of bluegrass country in Paris, Kentucky.

Secretariat still holds record.

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