It returned to business as expected for jockey Sonny Leon on Friday afternoon as he returned to Belterra Park six days after the voyage of a lifetime aboard the Rich Strike (Keen Ice) for a… Unforgettable version of the GI Kentucky Derby.
After his first ranked win in Race for the Roses, Leon finished second in race one, third in race two and won his third. Fittingly, 3/4 length win on Runway Rosie (Tonalist) in the $18,800 grant competition for coach Eric Reed. Before the lawn race, he shared an enthusiastic high-five with Rich Strike’s groom, Jerry Dixon Jr. After the winner’s circle photo, he created a ‘Kentucky Derby Winner 2022’ sign and the crowd clapped as they watched a video congratulation on the main screen with well wishes from Belterra’s racing community.
Leon finished Friday’s card with two second-place finishes and a win in the finals.
“We had a very good moment last week but right now we have to get back to reality,” Leon said at the end of the day. “We had a few wins today. We made a Sonny day. ”
Throughout the afternoon and even half an hour after the race ended, fans gathered around the lawn waving race shows and bottles of Kentucky Derby Woodford Reserve. Leon readily accommodated their requests for autographs and photos, accepting all the extra fanfare in stride.
“That was fun,” he said. “This is the first time I have had a moment like this. I took pictures with a lot of people and gave a lot of autographs.”
A native of Venezuela, Leon moved to the US in 2015. He first started out at Gulfstream Park before moving to the Ohio and Kentucky lines. With a number of Mahoning Valley equestrian titles on record, he is currently ranked among the top five riders at this year’s Beltra race.
Leon first rode Rich Strike last December at the Fair Grounds, finishing fifth behind Epicenter (Not this time) inside Gunman S. Leon described Rich Strike as “a little bit green” in the New Orleans race, but noted that the foal gained valuable experience and learned a lot since then.
Leon says he’s not worried when the day of the Kentucky Derby looms. He’s just happy to be running in Kentucky Derby.
“My dream came true when Eric Reed called me Friday morning and said, ‘Oh my gosh, we got in,’” Leon recalls. “It was my best moment when I heard from him. I am so happy. I talked to my wife and she was very excited. I didn’t know he was going to win the Kentucky Derby, but at that moment I knew I was going to ride in the Kentucky Derby. I just wanted to enjoy my moment and that’s what I did. ”
The hugely impressive ride Leon took to Rich Strike that day has been analyzed all week, but for the equestrian himself, he believes the key to his success is patience and understanding of the game. his horse.
“I knew they went fast from the start,” he explains. “I wanted to go inside to save the ground, that was perfect. We’ve saved a few lengths there. I stay away because that’s how this horse likes to run. When I got to the third of eighths I saw a lot of traffic but I didn’t despair. It’s a good move, be patient. When I got home, I had to wait until they opened the tracks. I didn’t know where to go because I still had a few horses in front of me. The rails opened up and wow, that’s amazing because my horse came out clear and it responded so well. ”
‘Wow’ is a term Leon uses a lot when talking about Rich Strike and their achievements together.
“We have a very good relationship and that is very special to me,” he said. “What can I say? We did it.”
On Thursday, Rich Strike connections announced that they will Ignore GI Preakness WILL. and instead, turn to GI Belmont S. It was a decision Leon wholeheartedly supported.
“I think it’s a very wise move,” he said. “The horse needs some time to recover well and rest. Belmont would be a perfect distance for him. It’s been a long road and a deep one. I think it will be very difficult for him. ”
Until then, Leon plans to take advantage of every opportunity his stellar Derby performance presents, be it in Class I at Belmont or a demanding race at Belterra.
“My next goal is to go to Belmont and enjoy the moment. It was a big race. It will be a tough race, but I think my horse, Rich Strike, can do it. We’ll see what happens after that, but I’m happy to come home and go to Belterra Park to win a few more races. ”