Kentucky Derby 2022: Rich Strike Wins at Churchill Downs

by Suzanne Halliburton
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Rich Strike, the longest shot in the field, captured the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby Saturday with a crowd of more than 150,000 at Churchill Downs saluting his historical run for the roses.

Rich Strike didn’t even make the Kentucky Derby field until Friday morning when Ethereal Road was forced to scratch. The horse’s owner said he didn’t know that Rich Strike made the field until 30 seconds before Friday’s entry deadline. And jockey Sonny Leon had never ridden a horse in the Kentucky Derby before Saturday.

Oddsmakers gave him an 80-to-1 shot of winning. Only one other winner in the previous 147 races had greater odds. If you were one of the bettors who took a chance, the payout on a $2 wager to win was $163.60.

“I knew the horse could do it if he could fight his way through the traffic,” Rich Strike trainer Eric Reed told NBC Sports. “I knew the horse could go the distance, but could he get through the traffic.”

The answer was a resounding yes.

“This horse is just getting good,” Reed said.

Leon added: “I know my horse. I know I had a horse for this race … (And) I can feel in my heart he was tough.”

Rich Strike had won only once coming into the Kentucky Derby in seven times. He beat some true heavy weights. Leon guided him along the rail as Epicenter and Messier battled up front, with the field going out in lightning speed. Then Leon steered his horse past Messier, Zandon and Epicenter for the sweet victory.

Before Kentucky Derby Post Time, Epicenter Was Horse to Beat

An hour before post time, Epicenter was a co-favorite at 5-to-1 odds. That was both a good and bad sign. Steve Asmussen trains Epicenter. And Asmussen had won more races than any other trainer in the country. Except coming into Saturday, he was zero for 23 in Derby starts. Now make that 0 of 24. It didn’t matter that Epicenter had won four of six starts headed into Saturday. Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, a Houston businessman, placed a bet of more $1.5 million for Epicenter to win just before post time.

Meanwhile, Taiba also was a 5-to-1 shot. Both horses were just ahead of Messier at 6 to 1. Mike Smith, who rode Justify to a Triple Crown in 2018, was Taiba’s jockey. That gave fans hope that Taiba could do the unthinkable, which was win the Derby in only his third start. He won two straight coming into Saturday. Messier won three of his six starts.

Zandon, with his incredible late kick, opened as the favorite Saturday morning at 3-1. But bettors knew that Epicenter already had beaten Zandon in one key race this season. Like we said, Rich Strike defined the word after thought.

The Kentucky Derby already was different because of a notable absence. Legendary trainer Bob Baffert, who has had six horses win the Derby, is in the middle of a two-year ban from the race. He trained Justify, the winner of the 2018 Triple Crown. And Baffert also was responsible for last year’s winner, Medina Spirit. But the horse, who opened as a long shot, tested positive for a banned anti-inflammatory and was disqualified after his victory. Medina Spirit died in December.

However, Baffert’s influence was all over Churchill Downs Saturday afternoon. He trained Taiba and Messier, before former assistant Tim Yakteen took over.

But none of it mattered thanks to a feisty horse with a fantastic late kick guided by a very savvy jockey.