Reed puts up one finger to signify how his horse performed at Churchill Downs
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Meet the Kentucky-winning horse Rich Strike who shocked the sports world when he beat 80-1 odds at his first Derby – and his trainer who almost abandoned his career when a fire killed dozens of his horses.

Rich Strike wasn’t even in the Derby field until Friday when Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road, making room for the chestnut colt trained by Eric Reed. 

The horse was purchased by Rick Dawson, who races as RED TR-Racing LLC, for $30,000 last fall when the colt was entered in a low-level claiming race by former owner Calumet Farm, who bred the horse. 

Rich Strike earned $1.86 million for just his second career victory. The colt lost to Zandon in the Blue Grass Stakes last month and was beaten by derby favorite Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby in March. 

Trainer Reed endured a tragedy five years ago when he lost nearly two dozen horses in a barn fire after lightning struck his training center in Lexington. 

Reed puts up one finger to signify how his horse performed at Churchill Downs

Reed puts up one finger to signify how his horse performed at Churchill Downs

Trainer Eric Reed (L), Jockey Sonny Leon (C), and Owner Rick Dawson (R) celebrate with the trophy after Rich Strike won the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

Trainer Eric Reed (L), Jockey Sonny Leon (C), and Owner Rick Dawson (R) celebrate with the trophy after Rich Strike won the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

Leon regularly rides on some of the country's smallest circuits, where the horse flesh is inexpensive and the purse money modest.

Leon regularly rides on some of the country’s smallest circuits, where the horse flesh is inexpensive and the purse money modest.

Jockey Sonny Leon guided Rich Strike from far back in the 20-horse field to beat 4-1 favorite Epicenter by three-quarters of a length

Jockey Sonny Leon guided Rich Strike from far back in the 20-horse field to beat 4-1 favorite Epicenter by three-quarters of a length

He briefly considered the fire might be a signal for him to leave the sport.

‘When we drove up on that that night, I told my wife, I said, ‘We’ve probably lost everything,” Reed told the Louisville Courier Journal. ‘By the grace of God, the wind was blowing in a direction that kept it from getting to the other two barns. The next morning when we saw the devastation, because this happened in the middle of the night, I just thought of all the years and all the stuff we had done to get this beautiful farm and have this happen, that something might be telling me it’s the end of the line.’ 

He said that the kindness of friends, high-profile trainers and people he’d met in the business over the years was the thing that kept him going. 

‘People I hadn’t seen, people I haven’t talked to in years, my best friends were there in the morning to pick me up,’ Reed recalled. ‘It let me know there’s so much good out there, and then I just decided I wasn’t going to let it take me out.’

Prior to the Derby, Reed trained horses on such a small scale that he didn’t even have a Wikipedia page.

Trainer Reed endured a tragedy five years ago when he lost nearly two dozen horses in a barn fire after lightning struck his training center in Lexington

Trainer Reed endured a tragedy five years ago when he lost nearly two dozen horses in a barn fire after lightning struck his training center in Lexington

Firefighters believe the fire was caused by storms that passed through Kentucky

Firefighters believe the fire was caused by storms that passed through Kentucky

Debris lies on the ground after a fire at the Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016

Debris lies on the ground after a fire at the Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 

Training center workers were devastated upon coming into work and seeing the devastation

Training center workers were devastated upon coming into work and seeing the devastation

‘I never thought I would have a Derby horse,’ Reed said. ‘I never tried to go to the yearling sale and buy a Derby horse. I just wanted to buy my clients a horse that would keep them happy, have some fun and make a little money. If we got a good one, terrific. This was never in my thoughts.’ 

Jockey Sonny Leon guided Rich Strike from far back in the 20-horse field to beat 4-1 favorite Epicenter by three-quarters of a length. 

Leon, from Venezuela, and Reed were in their first Derby. Leon regularly rides on some of the country’s smallest circuits, where the horse flesh is inexpensive and the purse money modest.

‘We are entering and hoping and praying,’ Reed said prior to the race.  

Rich Strike becomes the second-biggest upset in the Derby’s 148-year history and beat the longest odds for a Kentucky Derby winner since Donerail, who won from 91-1 odds in 1913.

Rich Strike ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.61. After taking a bite out of his much costlier competition, he playfully chomped on the pony guiding him to the winner’s circle.

The colt made it look so easy at the end that the biggest challenge for Leon and Reed was getting their minds around winning the sport’s marquee event on their very first try.

‘We had a difficult post but I know the horse,’ Leon said about Rich Strike’s No. 20 far outside starting spot. ‘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.’

That connection between horse and rider was clear as Leon guided Rich Strike from 15th after a mile behind contender Messier on the rail in the stretch. As Epicenter and Zandon battled for the win, Leon angled his mount to the right, split two horses and blasted past the leaders for the highly improbable win.

Trainer Eric Reed (left) and Owner Rick Dawson (center) celebrate with the trophy after Rich Strike won the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

Trainer Eric Reed (left) and Owner Rick Dawson (center) celebrate with the trophy after Rich Strike won the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

Leon, Dawson and Reed all won their first Kentucky Derbies, all three of them as massive underdogs alongside their horse

Leon, Dawson and Reed all won their first Kentucky Derbies, all three of them as massive underdogs alongside their horse

The horse was purchased by Dawson, who races as RED TR-Racing LLC, for $30,000 last fall when the colt was entered in a low-level claiming race by former owner Calumet Farm, who bred the horse.

The horse was purchased by Dawson, who races as RED TR-Racing LLC, for $30,000 last fall when the colt was entered in a low-level claiming race by former owner Calumet Farm, who bred the horse.

‘I can’t believe it after Epicenter’s effort,’ said losing trainer Steve Asmussen, who fell to 0 for 24 in the Derby. ‘I got beat by the horse that just got in.’

Leon’s rail ride was reminiscent of jockey Calvin Borel’s stealth move aboard Mine That Bird in 2009. Mine That Bird sprang what was then the Derby’s third-biggest upset, paying $103.20 to win.

Reed had no argument with the bettors ignoring his colt, whose victory surely inspired little guys everywhere.

‘Small trainer, small rider, small stable, he should have been 80-1,’ Reed said. ‘And so anybody that’s in this business, lightening can strike.’

A few days ago, Reed sent Dawson a photo of the colt sprawled in his straw-covered stall with his handlers laying on him, all of them napping. Reed typed, ‘I think our horse is cool and ready to run.’

Dawson responded, ‘If we can wake him up.’

Did they ever.

‘I feel like the luckiest man alive,’ Dawson said, grinning.

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