Kentucky Derby 148: Rich Strike 80-1 Pulls Massive Upset

Chris Adams

The Kentucky Derby 148 is in the books. In a Cinderella Story Rich Strike won at 80-1! Incredibly the horse barely made the gate of the race.

Rich Strike and Sonny Leon cross the wire first in the Kentucky Derby
Rich Strike and Jockey Sonny Leon. Photo Credit: Blood Horse

Last Into the Kentucky Derby Gate

One of the most improbable things about Rich Strike’s victory in the Kentucky Derby was the fact that he almost didn’t get a chance to show what he could do.

On Friday morning ahead of the Kentucky Oaks card, the security guard responsible for Rich Strike was given the green light by Churchill Downs to leave his post. The field of 20 looked like it would remain fully in tact. The connections started planning for a run in the Peter Pan stakes in New York.

However, less than an hour before also-eligibles were scratched D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Kentucky Oaks champion Secret Oath, announced that Ethereal Road would be coming out of the race. Rich Strike was in.

Unheralded Kentucky Derby Horse

The public didn’t seem to give the horse much of a chance despite drawing into the field. The horse was breaking from a difficult post with a run style that has not been good in the Kentucky Derby. Beyond that, the horse hadn’t won since breaking his maiden in a $30,000 maiden claiming race.

The horse had a Brisnet top speed figure of 85 on dirt while Taiba had a 111. If you consider 2 points per length that is the equivalent of a 13 length (over 2 second) difference.

The connections of trainer Eric Reed and jockey Sonny Leon are fixtures in the Ohio racing circuit at tracks like Thistledown, Mahoning Valley, and Belterra Park. However, they are names rarely seen at the A and B level tracks around the country. In fact the 2022 Kentucky Derby will forever go down as Sonny Leon’s first ever graded stakes victory.

Redboarding the Kentucky Derby

For those new to the term, redboard is a term often used for a player who claims to have found the right horse only after the race is over. However, as a horseplayer there is great value in reflecting on if it was possible to find this seemingly impossible long shot. Here are 5 reflections from Rich Strike’s shocking win the Kentucky Derby.

Race Chaos Analysis

One of the first things a player should do when handicapping the race is determine the chaos factor of a race. There are a lot of aspects the likelihood of chaos in a horse race.

In the case of the 2022 Kentucky Derby I, like many others had determined that the race was really difficult to handicap.

Taiba was the most talented horse on figures, but had some red flags in foundation and training. Epicenter had been off a while and though impressive, there was concern about Asmussen’s historic Kentucky Derby losing streak. Zandon and Mo Donegal felt like they would have too much work to do late.

In the end I went with the most talented horse in the race and hoped that was enough. It wasn’t. The point is that I had identified this was a really challenging race with a lot of good horses, but no standouts.

Chaos was very possible.

Pace Makes the Race

It’s an old cliché in racing that “pace makes the race,” but then again they become clichés for a reason.

All week people had been talking about how hopeless off the pace horses have been in the recent vintages of the Kentucky Derby. There was also the question of who would make the lead?

Summer is Tomorrow proved to have no problem setting suicidal paces is the UAE Derby. Epicenter, Messier and Classic Causeway were just a few of the runners who would likely want to chase that.

Trainers and jockeys know the stats too and that made it far more likely that everyone would be encouraging their horses to stay involved early to have a chance in the final stages.

All of this meant an absolute blister upfront as the horses set the all-time record for fastest run through the first part of the race. This includes the pre-points era that saw many sprinters qualify for the race with no prayer of winning.

The result? A predictable pace collapse that saw Rich Strike weave through horses like they were traffic cones and the more proven horses unable to re-rally as he cruised to the finish.

Jockeys in the Kentucky Derby

One of the common occurrences in the Kentucky Derby is jockey musical chairs. With a spot in the history books on the line, trainers and owners will switch to more prestigious jockeys in hopes of winning it all.

Many have cried foul on this practice as it punishes the jockey who got the horse to the race and would be benefited by getting the chance to ride such a prestigious mount.

However, racing is a business. Few argued when the Minnesota Vikings benched the late Tavaris Jackson for Brett Favre in 2009. Jockey musical chairs is very similar. You want the keys in the hands of proven capable commodities.

Leon’s Kentucky Derby Debut

The top jocks were hardly lobbying to get aboard Rich Strike which meant the connections were able to stick with Sonny Leon. The jockey is a very respectable 18% on the year and had ridden the horse in the last 4 starts. Three of those came on synthetic surfaces which tend to play to off the speed types where he got to fully grasp how to maximize the late kick of the eventual Derby winner.

Leon also spends time at Mahoning Valley where he has perfected the late sweeping move around traffic that is stopping badly. If you’ve followed the Ohio circuit you know just how talented he is at working out trips that fit the track.

Form Analysis

Mark Kramer is one of the foremost authors on form cycle analysis for horses. His books don’t emphasize the importance of speed figures. Form analysis is not about how the horse ran yesterday it is about successfully predicting how the horse will run today.

Rich Strike as weird as it sounds actually had some form that could have pointed players in the right direction.

First, the horse was coming in from three straight races at Turfway Park. Early in the 2022 Churchill Downs meet this has been one of the most productive tracks for finding board hitters and winners.

Horse for Course?

Rich Strike came into the Kentucky Derby 1 for 7 with 3 third place finishes. The one win came way back in September of 2021 in a maiden claimer, but also represented the only career race at Churchill Downs.

After dropping out of maiden special weight after debut the horse romped over the field to win at a route distance by 17 lengths.

Final Redboard Analysis

The cases above are easy to make knowing the result. This is true for thousands of horse races each year. As a handicapper the choice that has to be made is how much do you want to carry these ideas forward as predictive factors.

The reality is, even if you lined the same 20 horses up for another 100 races we may never see this one win again.

As a bettor the one thing you can take from this is that in races where chaos appears likely a pace dependent exacta key isn’t a bad play. This becomes even more valid in races with massive pools like the Kentucky Derby.

Every winning ticket I saw on social media in the aftermath of the Derby was a player who identified the race was wide open and keyed every horse over and under some likely players like Epicenter and Zandon. Even this is risky as an Epicenter, Zandon exacta would have left many of these same bettors in the red with a winning ticket. Sometimes it is better lucky than good.

Is Rich Strike a Triple Crown Threat?

The next question that has to be asked when a horse wins the Derby is can they win the triple crown. Frankly, Rich Strike does not seem that type of horse.

Rich Strike is a pace dependent horse, meaning that without something decent to run at he will always have a lot to do late. That is not a good fit for American dirt racing. It seems unlike Summer is Tomorrow who is the main impetus for the suicide Derby pace will go in either of the other two races.

Other pace setters are unlikely to set such absurd fractions on the front end. This makes it much more likely the horse returns to the prep races than the Kentucky Derby performance.

This horse may be competitive in the occasional graded stakes throughout the rest of his career, but it feels like a dominant grade 1 horse who goes on to win the Triple Crown might be a bit ambitious for this one.

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