Horse Racing

Sonny Shines Bright

It was an inevitable outcome. No, make that an unlikely outcome. But it happened. A named 80-1 shot Rich Strike (Keen Ice), who probably won 800-1, won Saturday’s GI Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

But how? He benefits from a speed race, runs the race of his life and most importantly, gets one of the best rides in Derby history from someone you’ve probably never heard of. His name is Sonny Leon and he outclasses Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat and a bunch of others who are in the Hall of Fame or will one day. As they say, find out.

“[Leon] Winning coach Eric Reed said.

Here’s what he did: Breaking from column number 20, Leon created a rail right after the break point. Horses from column 20 must go five or six wide in the first turn. Leon, 32, had him in two ways. He was in 17th place and the rider was patient, clearly realizing that an early move would get him in. Rich Strike is campaigning in column three of eight and Leon has made the decision. He can either try to get around the horses, which will make sure you get a clear run to the rope, or he can take his chance and hope a hole opens up in the rails for him. We can land. He went inside, but Messier (Empire Maker) got in his way. Leon remained calm and steered his horse around a weary Messier. From there, with a clear path leading to the rope, Rich Strike ran like a wild horse. He won 3/4 of the length Epicenter (Not this time) and 2021 Eclipse winner Joel Rosario. Above Zandon (Start up), Flavien Prat came in third.

After it was over, Jerry Bailey, arguably the best racer of his generation, fully revealed Leon.

“He did a great job,” Bailey said on the NBC broadcast. “From column 20, he came in on the first leg… It was a brilliant dribble from Sonny Leon. You have to take your hat off to him.”

So, who is Sonny Leon?

After trainer Eric Reed requested Rich Strike from trainer Joe Sharp and breeder Calumet Farm from a $30,000 claimant on September 17 at Churchill, he rode Julien Leparoux during the export. next broadcast. The result was to finish in third place. Then he went to Leon. With his new rider, Rich Strike finished fifth in Gunman S., third in Leonatus S., fourth in Battaglia Memorial S. and third in GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks.

Maybe it’s time to try someone else. While he could never get the likes of Irad Ortiz Jr., Luis Saez or Prat to ride, he could certainly get someone else, someone with a proven track record. demonstrated in races like the Kentucky Derby. No. He went with Sonny Leon.

“Eric sold me to Sonny,” said winning owner Richard Dawson. “A month back, we had a conversation, like most people. You are looking at options. And that if you go to the Derby, we’ll stick with Sonny? He said, ‘I want to stick with Sonny.’ I will never, never change at that point. I was told I might not change my socks, let alone my socks. I watched Sonny ride a bunch. And his courage, his intelligence on the track… I mean, he’s very athletic. Never fight for this guy because it won’t be fun. He is our role model. “

Or, maybe, Reed doesn’t mind switching because Rich Strike is also on the eligible list and isn’t looking to participate. We will never know.

“I know this horse can do it if it finds its way through the traffic,” Reed said. “That’s why I have Sonny with him. He brought us here. “

According to Equibase, Leon from Venezuela has had 5,175 rides in the US with 769 winners. He made his North American riding debut in 2015, when he won all nine races. Before Derby, he had never won a qualifying race. His biggest wins have been in the $100,000 race trilogy, the Best of Ohio Endurance S. 2021 and 2020 races and the Best of Ohio Cleveland Kindergarten S.

Having come from his hometown, Leon has found his niche. He’s become a big deal on the Ohio track. He’s won the last four equestrian titles at Mahoning Valley and is second in the standings at the 2021 meetup at Belterra Park and third at the 2020 meet there. He kicked off the Derby by riding five horses on Friday at Belterra. In his last ride before the Derby, he finished second on his favorite Elliot the Dragon 7-10 (Kantharos) in a $26,400 grant bred by Ohio. His final victory before the Derby came to the $5,000 claimant.

It was Tuesday at Belterra, another slow day at a slow racetrack with cheap horses. On Saturday, Sonny Leon was king of the world – the most unlikely king of equestrian world ever witnessed. How can you explain such a thing?

“It’s a horse race and anyone can win,” said Reed.

Will this victory, this sensational ride, be the launch pad to stardom for the Venezuelans?

“I want to enjoy the moment, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Leon said.

Leon said he will be spending the next few days on vacation with his family in Tampa. Then it will work again, at Belterra, for $5,000 and Ohio hybrids. Then there’s GI Preakness S., where the pros probably won’t give this horse much of a chance. They will say that there will not be another speed match like the one in Derby. They will probably be right. Leon’s next winner is sure to return to Belterra in a not-so-important race.

But he will always be at the 2022 Kentucky Derby. It was his moment, two minutes to be exact – 2:02.61 – famous. The horse has done its part well, but it will never win without a perfect ride. Good for you, Sonny Leon.

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