A last-minute addition managed to shock the field and win the race to the finish line in the 148th Kentucky Derby.
It was a triumphant return in the midst of Churchill Downs as all pandemic obstructions were removed and a huge crowd flooded the stadium in Louisville. There was hope that the discolored image would be erased after the disqualification of 2021 race winner Medina Spirit for illegal drug samples found in his bloodstream. The photo of trainer Bob Baffert would not draw the cameras, since Baffert was given two years of ban from running.
The silent wishes of the crowd have been fulfilled, with the well-dressed and glamorous audience treated to a dramatic and surprising closing. The horse that was largely ignored, Rich Strike, made a surge to the top of the list as many were left wondering what transpired as he crossed the line with a half-length win over the highly favored field. The odds for his post-time race of 83-1 gave Rich Strike the second-highest longshot to take home The Derby.
It's even more remarkable that he was barely on the track.
On Friday morning, Rich Strike was not a participant in the field. However, the trainer D. Wayne Lukas was forced to scratch his entry Ethereal Road. This gave him an opportunity to fill in the spot and the next horse that was on the list of horses on The Road to the Kentucky Derby was listed.
This is the program that begins in the previous fall, when horses earn points on their performance and are eligible for an automatic bid to Louisville when they win certain Grade-1 races. The 21st horse on the listing included Rich Strike, with only $74,500 in winnings this year. (All others have between $100K, and even over $1,000,000 in winnings.) Most of his time was spent on the synthetic Turfway Park track; he only got a Grade-3 win to his credit, and fourth place at the John Battaglia Memorial race, earning the racer enough points to leap into the vacant slot.
Turfway, situated close enough to Churchill Downs, meant Rich Strike could get into his post quickly enough. What made his shot longer was the fact that he was given the #20 gate an additional fill-in. In 100 years and half, Derbies and the colt would become only the 2nd winner from this slot. There was no one who considered the second-placed Derby horse Sonny Leon as a contender until the last lap.
Leon set his horse down on the backstretch in front of when the speed was set. Then, a number of favorite horses got closer. Messier was the first to go off at 6-1, dominated the final turn, and as they approached the stretch, the race favorite Epicenter was a bit further back. Rich Strike moved to the rail and found a lot of space, so he snuck ahead as the last stretch was looming.
Messier started to fall back ahead of him, and you can watch Leon move right, which is the time Rich Strike turned it on. Epicenter and Zandon were engaged in a fierce battle that appeared to be an excitingly close race. However, with them was a horse who had his own goals and had a completely different set of gears. He sped up quickly and passed the two horses with the crowd stunned and gazing at their racing programs in an attempt to determine who it was that was claiming the largest prize in the world of horse racing.
The Derby is known as the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports”; however, it could be weeks before people will be done discussing the way this mysterious horse escaped with a bouquet of roses.