Kentucky Derby Shocker as the Second Biggest Upset Winner Hits the Wire

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A last-minute addition manages to stun the field and takes the roses at the 148th Kentucky Derby.

It was a return to glory at Churchill Downs as all pandemic hindrances were dispatched and a full crowd filled the stands in Louisville. There were hopes the tarnished image would be erased, following the disqualification of 2021 winner Medina Spirit for illegal drug samples in his bloodstream. The image of cotton-haired trainer Bob Baffert would not draw the cameras, as he was served a two-year suspension from the race.


Those silent wishes have been granted, as the well-attired and gaudy-domed crowd was served a dramatic and shocking finale. The completely overlooked steed Rich Strike made a surge for the ages as most were left wondering what happened when he crossed the finish with a half-length victory over the heavily favored field. His post-time odds of 83-1 made Rich Strike the second-highest longshot to win The Derby.

More amazing than that, he barely belonged on the track.

On Friday morning Rich Strike was not a member of the field, but trainer D. Wayne Lukas was forced to scratch his entry, Ethereal Road. This meant that there was a chance to fill the post, and the next horse on the list of the Road to the Kentucky Derby was tabbed.

This is the schedule beginning in the prior fall where horses accrue points based on finishing and can earn an automatic bid to Louisville by winning select Grade-1 races. Number 21 on that list was Rich Strike, with only $74,500 in winnings this season. (All others have easily over $100K to more than $1 million in earnings.) Running mostly on the synthetic Turfway Park track he only had a Grade-3 victory to his name, and a fourth-place finish in the John Battaglia Memorial, giving him enough points to jump into the vacated slot.


Turfway being close enough to Churchill Downs meant Rich Strike could slide into his post position quickly enough. Making his shot even longer was being granted the #20 gate, as a fill-in, as in the century and a half of Derbies, the colt became only the second winner ever from that slot. No one ever regarded the replacement with the first-time Derby rider Sonny Leon as a contender until the final furlong.

Leon settled his horse in on the backstretch just behind the middle of the field as the fast pace was set, then many of the favorites worked their way to the front. Messier, who went off at 6-1, led through the far turn, then, as they entered the stretch, race favorite Epicenter challenged outside of him. Rich Strike moved to the rail and found all kinds of room so he crept up as the final stretch loomed.

Messier began to lag directly in front of him and you can see Leon steer him to the right, and that was when Rich Strike turned it on. Epicenter and Zandon were locked in a tight battle that looked to be a thrillingly close finish, but inside of them was a horse with his own agenda and who found another gear entirely. He closed rapidly and then breezed by the pair, leaving the crowd stunned and looking at their programs trying to figure out who this was that had just taken the biggest crown in horse racing.


The Derby is hailed as The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports, but it might be weeks and people could still be talking about how this unknown ran away with the roses.



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