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Rich Strike: The story behind an Oklahoma man's Kentucky Derby winner

Posted at 11:47 AM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 23:27:59-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Starting the most prestigious event in horse racing at 80-1 odds to win set Oklahoma horse owner Rick Dawson's thoroughbred up for one of the biggest upsets in racing history.

Rich Strike and jockey Sonny Leon captured the nation by coming from behind in the 20-horse race to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby in May. 2 News Oklahoma Senior Reporter Sharon Phillips traveled to Rich Strike's training farm in Kentucky to learn more about the now-famous horse's Oklahoma heritage.

Trained by Eric Reed, the horse had only raced seven times before Derby Day. Reed says the 3-year-old thoroughbred only made it into the Derby after another horse scratched.

Rich Strike
Rich Strike, the winner of the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby. 2 News Senior Reporter Sharon Phillips traveled to Kentucky to learn more about the champion's Oklahoma roots.

"At 8:39, my phone rang, and it was Barbara Borden, the state steward... and I'll never forget the words, she said, 'Eric Reed, on Saturday in the 12th race do you want to draw into the Kentucky Derby?'" Reed says.

"I couldn't get the air to say yes. It was like a nightmare when you can't breathe, and I couldn't get the air to say yes. I couldn't speak. So finally, I get this great big gasp and I say yes."

Reed says their original plan was to immediately get to the inside and try to take the shortest trip around the track.

"As they were going down the backside, I noticed [Rich Strike] was already picking horses up," Reed says. "As they get into the turn, there is this big group of about 14 horses, and he runs right up in the middle of them."

Rich Strike finished the race in 2 minutes and 2.61 seconds.

The victory had been a long time coming for Reed, years ago a fire engulfed one of his barns and killed multiple horses.

It was 2016 and there was one of these crazy, December storms that comes through Kentucky. Then this one big crash of thunder just shoots the ground and a lot of times you feel thunder, but it shook everything,” he said.

Reed struggles to get those images out of his head.

“There was this crazy roar and then the scream of the horses was just something that nobody should have to hear."

They saved 13 horses but lost 23. Reed says out of that tragedy came glory in 2022.

Following the Kentucky Derby win Rich Strike skipped the Preakness to have more time to prepare for the Belmont Stakes.

"For us, it was if you run in the Derby and you want to run in the Belmont, it's really hard to run in all 3, and for our guy, we just felt it was better to keep him on his regular cycle,” said Rick Dawson, owner.

He came in 6th in that race - but Dawson said the horse seemed off that day.

When we got him back to the barn, he had a lot of dirt and sand in his eyes and so we feel like maybe that's when it happened. It's impossible to know, but we just feel like he wasn't himself,” said Dawson.

DAWSON says Rich Strike's story isn't over. He’s gotten calls from all over the world and is fielding potential offers and stud requests.

For now, Rich Strike is training in Kentucky, preparing for his next race.

Dawson and Reed say this horse was born to run, and they want to give him every opportunity to fulfill his destiny.

Rich Strike is scheduled to run in the Travers Stakes on August 27th and then in the Breeders Cup in November.

Kentucky Derby Horse Racing
Rich Strike (21), with Sonny Leon aboard, crosses the finish line to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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