Rich Strike surged from the back of the pack Saturday to pull off an upset victory at the 148th Kentucky Derby. A search of the internet tells me that Rich Strike, at 80–1 odds, was the second-biggest long shot to ever win the event. If you know absolutely nothing about this horse, that’s fine, you certainly weren’t alone: Rich Strike was added to the Derby field at the last minute, after Ethereal Road was scratched Friday morning. His trainer, a man named Eric Reed, joked Friday about needing emergency resuscitation after learning his horse made the field: “They just got through informing me; we’d already made plans to work tomorrow and were going to head to the Peter Pan [Stakes],” he told Blood Horse magazine. “They’re giving me CPR right now.” And that was before Rich Strike made an incredible closing push to win the whole damn thing.
On the broadcast ahead of the race, an animated man explained that new dynamics in recent years have changed the way the race is run, such that winners tend nowadays to race near the front, whereas in Ye Olden Times the winner would almost always come from among the horses who’d been reserved early for a final sprint. Rich Strike did it the old fashioned way. He did not get out to the lead and hold off his competitors. He got stuck way in the back, with a couple whole rows of horses between him and the leading pack. And then around the final turn he kicked on the afterburners, weaved confidently through traffic like Charles LeClerc, and took everyone by such surprise that broadcaster Larry Collmus very nearly screamed himself inside-out in the final stages.
We are here today because I would like to draw your attention to this absolutely killer overhead view of the final stages of Saturday’s race. This is now possibly my favorite horse racing video ever; I have watched it approximately one thousand times since Saturday night. Collmus’s call is one of the greatest I can recall in any sport, ever:
To an outsider, horse racing can seem like a sport that is designed with great care to maximize the gap between likely events and unlikely events, so that the real long-shot plays remain the domain of suckers and tourists. The 2021 winner of the Kentucky Derby—or, at least, the horse that finished first—was Medina Spirit, who was also considered a “long shot” but at somewhat more hopeful 12–1 odds. Medina Spirit—who died in December 2021 after collapsing at Santa Anita Park in California— is not recorded as the official winner of the race because he was disqualified after testing positive for a banned steroid. Horse juicing remains a huge problem for the sport; you probably should not form too high an opinion of Rich Strike or his trainer until we can be reasonably sure he was not loaded down with performance enhancers. Give it a good seven months of well-earned skepticism.
But, man, show me a long shot horse zooming through a crowd to take an improbable come-from-behind victory in the sport’s signature event, and I will show you a guy who can forget about horse racing’s sleaze and abundant horrors and scream in euphoria. It rules when horses zoom.