Kentucky Derby Contenders
Saffie Joseph 1000 wins
Ken McPeek 3000 wins
Sovereign Award finalists
Jockey Sonny Leon and Rich Strike head to the winner's circle after the Kentucky Derby
The 148th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) Presented by Woodford Reserve was contested on the first Saturday in May over the classic trip of 1 1/4 miles around the historic oval in Louisville, kicking off the Triple Crown series. Conditions were cool for early May for the 147,294 fans in attendance, with cloudy skies, a fast main track, and a race time temperature of 62 degrees. Betting handle on the Derby alone was a record $168.8 million, up 9.9% over 2021 and up 5.8% over the previous record set in 2019.
22 horses made final entry (20 in the field and 2 also eligibles), but after Ethereal Road scratched on Friday morning, first also-eligible Rich Strike drew into the field, allowing a full field of 20 three-year-olds to come of the tunnel beneath the Twin Spires to the strains of My Old Kentucky Home. Epicenter was sent off as the 4-1 favorite off wins in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2). In to challenge him included 5-1 second choice Taiba, undefeated in just 2 lifetime starts, his debut and the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and 6-1 third choice Zandon, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) after finishing third in the Risen Star.
Rich Strike on the inside battling with Epicenter in the stretch.
Rich Strike winner of the Kentucky Derby
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 21 Rich Strike Leon 163.60 74.20 29.40 3 Epicenter Rosario 7.40 5.20 10 Zandon Prat 5.60 Winning Time: 2:02.61 $2 Exacta 21-3 4,101.20 $1 Trifecta 21-3-10 14,870.70 $1 Superfecta 21-3-10-13 321,500.10 $1 Super Hi-5 21-3-10-13-1 741,018.90 $1 Oaks/Derby Double 1-21 973.20
Left: Rich Strike heads to the winner's circle. Winning jockey Sonny Leon, celebrating his first Derby win in his first attempt said, "You know we had a difficult post but I know the horse. 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."
Right: Celebrating with the Kentucky Derby trophy. Winning owner Rick Dawson celebrating his first Derby said, "How much courage does this guy have? Wow! And he has as much courage and he is as fearless as our horse. And it's a pretty tough combo. Obviously, it's the Derby and it's extremely difficult to get a path and make your way and it takes a ton of racing luck to get there. But you also got to be pretty good, and he's really good. Eric brought this horse along in a fashion that spaced out races. We passed on some races that didn't really fit what we wanted to do. Last fall we got together and he told me he thought we had something. I don't want to get your hopes up, too, high. Eric easily undersells and overperforms. And that's kind of the way he does about life."
Left: Rich Strike heads back to the barn. Winning trainer Eric Reed, celebrating his first Derby win with his first starter, said, "He passed them all. 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 (father Herbert Reed) taught me how to train horses. 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."
Right: Rich Strike parades for the fans after the race. Leon added, "I know my horse likes the rail. And then when I turn for home, the road opened for me. But I had a horse in front of me on the rail, and then I said, 'I come through on the horse or I got to go by the horse.' And I said, 'I don't want to have to cut you off. I got a horse. I want to avoid the horse.' That's what I did."
Left: Rich Strike walks over before the race. Retired trainer Herbert Reed, father to Eric said, "I'm as proud as I can be. He's been going to the track with me since he was 6 years old. And that's no bull. He would go every day. And when he was 8, he could put a spider bandage on a horse, and most people don't even know what it is anymore. He told me (after graduating high school), 'I know what I want to do. I'm not going to college; I'm going to train horses.' And if you find something you love to do, you never work. And he found something he loved to do, and he's good at it."
Right: Rich Strike in the post parade. Dawson added, "I can't imagine how it doesn't make us all feel better after what we've all been through for the last few years, with all the COVID and shutdown and lockdown and all that. I think the world, at least in the U.S., people are just really wanting to live again, breathe again, get out and about again, do all the things they love to do. And so I think horse racing could be a really good avenue for those folks to fall in love. These horses are just unbelievable."
Left: Rich Strike in 17th first time by. Leon added, "Well, we had a difficult post, post 20. But I know the horse. I know that horse, he can be in that race. I don't know if he could win the race, but I had a good feeling with him. Well, we broke. That was a little slow. That was good for me because I could go to the rail and save a lot of ground. I got a good position. I can hang a little bit. And he answered so quick he said, 'Hey, I got horse. I got some horse from my something.' So I started to push just a little bit, you know, because he's a little bit lazy. And at the rail, I was so close. I found a lot of traffic. And then I say I have to wait until the stretch. That's what I did. I wait for the stretch, and the rail opened up."
Right: Sonny Leon celebrates as they parade on the turf course. Dawson added, "Eric sold me on Sonny. A month or so back we had a conversation, like most people. You're looking at options. And it was if you get in the Derby, are we going to stick? He said, I want to stick with Sonny. I said, yeah, exactly, I would never, ever change at this point. I said I may not change my socks let alone my jock, you know? And I said I've watched Sonny ride a bunch. And his courage, his smartness on the track, he's athletic. Don't ever wrestle this guy because it's not going to be fun. He's our kind of guy."
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Epicenter returns after the race. Jockey Joel Rosario said, "Everything was perfect. We thought we were home. Too bad that horse got us right at the end. I thought Epicenter ran a tremendous race. He did everything. He responded when I asked him. We ran too good to get beat." Trainer Steve Asmussen added, "I can't believe it after Epicenter's effort. 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."
Right: Third place finisher Zandon in the post parade. Trainer Chad Brown said, "We really had a great trip. Epicenter was in front of us closer to the pace and Flavien really just followed 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." Jockey Flavien Prat added, "To be honest, when I got next to Epicenter, I thought I was good to win it. I had a good trip. At the eighth pole, I thought I was going to be a winner. Epicenter fought back on me."
Left: The start of the 148th Kentucky Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher said of his three entrants, "Mo Donegal (fifth) all but lost it at the gate. That's the second year in a row that's happened to us, even though that new gat gets them further off the rail. But to his credit, he kept trying to the end. Charge It (17th) got in a good spot, he came under a drive at the 3/8 pole but that was it. Pioneer of Medina (19th) got hot in the paddock. I didn't get much of a line on him in the race."
Right: The entire Kentucky Derby field at the head of the stretch. Trainer Brad Cox said of his three entrants, "Tawny Port (seventh) finished up OK; Cyberknife (18th) super disappointed; Zozos (10th) was too close to the hot pace. No doubt that was a really hot pace. I'm not sure where this horse was he must have been in the back somewhere. No matter how good you look breezing or in the mornings, you have to have the right setup. And this horse had the right setup today. We'll live to fight another day."