Horse Racing

And the last will be the first…

Week rated by TD Thornton

A blue-collar trainer lived during a horrific barn fire caused by a lightning bolt that killed 23 horses. But he vowed to rebuild his racing stable, and a few years later was connected with an owner client who didn’t have much success at the sport’s lower levels, but nonetheless wanted to move forward because his love of the Purebred outweighed his frustration with the industry.

They got a pony for a relatively short amount of money, essentially just cash out of a much larger racing operation that produced a record nine GI Kentucky Derby winners. This long shot won a fussy 17 1/4 length the day he was claimed by these new connections, then didn’t win a race for the next eight months. But he manages to sneak into America’s most important and historic horse race because of the odd qualifying scoring system and the last-minute push of a higher-ranked entrant.

Out of loyalty, owners and trainers stick with the foal’s little racehorse, who has never ridden in a big game, let alone a race of the caliber of the Derby. The foal hit 80-1, the longest stroke in a 20-horse race, starting from the unwanted outermost stall. He was the first time on the court to skim the finishing line, then deftly weave his way through the tight herd and past some of the nation’s most expensive and regal bred to land the bet. second largest in Derby history.

Is someone taking notes for a movie script?

You don’t need to be concerned. Such a plot would certainly be dismissed on the basis that no one believed it could happen.

But it happened at Churchill Downs Saturday, and the compelling storyline “everyone” involving Rich Strike (Keen Ice), owner Rick Dawson, trainer Eric Reed, and jockey Sonny Leon proved to be. irresistible attraction right after the inevitable anger.

“This is a game where this horse should have been 80-1 on paper,” Reed said after the race. “But we train him; We are around him every day. Small trainer, small rider, small barn. He should have been 80-1. But I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve had some very nice horses. And we know what we have.

“I’m not telling you in any way that we know we won the Derby,” Reed continued. “If we didn’t think we would be in the Derby, we wouldn’t have prepared for the whole year. We know we have a horse that can run well. And so anyone in this business, lightning can strike. “

Or – in Reed’s case – strike twice. That first flash, in 2016 at his Mercury Equine Training Center in Lexington, caused tragedy. This triggered the win.

“We don’t go out and buy big horses. We just try to have a stable good quality. We’re always doing well,” said 57-year-old Reed, a second-generation rider who lives in Kentucky but most often campaigns at C-level tracks in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia.

“Our percentage is always good, and we take care of the horse first. And the rest falls into place.

“I never dreamed I would be here. I never thought I would have a Derby. I’ve never tried to go to the aspirational shop and buy a Derby horse,” Reed continued. “I just want to buy my customers a horse that makes them happy, happy and maybe earns a little money. If we have a good one, great. So this was never in my plan. Everyone wants to win the Derby. I’ve always been like that, but I never thought I’d be here, ever. ”

Happiness? Fun? Some money? Tough chestnut with flimsy white and post-race layout ships all Saturdays.

Amid the tumult of the press conference, Dawson wasn’t even sure how many winners he had in his brief foray into Purebred ownership, which he is now undertaking under the stable name RED TR- Racing, LLC. Less than 10, you guess? He didn’t even think he had won an allowance race before knocking out Derby.

“We’ve got one,” Reed reminded him.

“But as for my equestrian career, I think it’s just getting started,” said Dawson, eliciting laughter from a group of reporters who were amused by the smiling faces of the Derby podium. real, open.

“I train two horses,” said Dawson, who is from Oklahoma and retired from owning an energy business. “One person is practicing again. It is not a serious injury. And we had a really nice fun that went very quickly. We had high expectations from her. One day, Eric found out a little bit with her during training, and we took a look at the vet and said, yeah, she’s got a bit of a knee problem and she maybe run 20 more times, but maybe not. And me and Eric promised each other a long time ago. In fact, Eric made a promise to himself long before he met me. But we just don’t push a horse on a track that isn’t ready. ”

Dawson did not mention the name of that slut, but did reveal that he had retired her and bred her with Keen Ice – it was not known at the time that the stallion would be a human male. win his last Derby.

“I’m from the Keen Ice family, as you can tell,” Dawson said. “And only recently did I actually buy one [by] The Keen Ice is an Ohio dog. So that’s kind of family right there. It is very limited. I guess there are five horses. And I think the most horses I’ve ever owned a share of is probably six. But I didn’t make it to win the Kentucky Derby – even though I didn’t give the trophy back.

“I joined because I loved it, and it was fun. It’s fun. I was at a point in my life when I had the time and energy to go to the farm; and I learned how to do business. And Eric taught me wonderfully. If I asked him a stupid question, he wouldn’t say, ‘That’s a stupid question.’ He will show me a great answer, and the truth. And I will learn from that. And that’s how we built what we built.”

Dawson said he partnered with Reed because he likes how the veteran coach “often undersells and oversells,” adding, “That’s how he comes to life.”

Reed describes their relationship like this: “Well, Rick and I are trying to build a barn. He’s been going through a tough time. And he really should have gotten out of the business, but he decided to give it another chance.”

At a later point in the press conference, Dawson was encouraged to explain the nature of that “bad luck” as an owner. He didn’t seem to mind the high road when he answered.

“For my bad experiences in horse racing, I wouldn’t go there,” Dawson replied diplomatically. “Thanks, though.”

The halo from the life-changing victory will give way to a mode of action again as Rich Strike heads to Baltimore – like all Derby winners do – with the iconic target on his back GI Preakness S. at Pimlico.

The pony connections should be foreshadowing that life under the microscope awaits.

When they cover your horse in a blanket of roses at Churchill Downs, no one gives you a handbook explaining every training decision that will suddenly come under scrutiny and guessing or becoming How being famous overnight can literally wreak havoc on one’s happiness. .

But for now, Rich Strike and his men are entitled to defeat.

When asked to describe how “victory for the little guy” impacts the spirit of the sport, Dawson explained it this way:

“It has to be a good story,” said the Derby winner. “And I hope people will do it that way. I feel like the luckiest man alive. That’s actually my nickname. So sorry – I can’t help. ”

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