- DERBY SHOCKER LEAVES RACING BREATHLESS
- NEIGE BLANCHE EYES SANTA BARBARA REPEAT
- RICH STRIKE EARNS 101 BEYER IN DERBY WIN
- HERNANDEZ & D’AMATO TEAM FOR SENORITA WIN
- GRADE I WINNER HIT THE ROAD BACK AT SANTA ANITA
KENTUCKY DERBY PRODUCES RICH STRIKE INDEED
That whoosh in the air is merely exhaling from the lungs of deflated fans who did not give Rich Strike a modicum of a chance to win the Kentucky Derby Saturday.
How big was his 80-1 upset? It even made Fox News.
From a handicapping perspective, Rich Strike was the first horse you’d throw out. That’s why his odds were 99-1 until shortly before post time.
His was the nearest thing to a miracle victory. The chestnut colt, with 21 Derby qualifying points, only drew into the starting field due a late scratch Friday morning of the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Ethereal Road.
He won by three-quarters of a length under a jockey who had been earning his keep on minor racing circuits in Ohio. This was a plot akin to National Velvet.
Despite an excess of pre-race analysis, nobody picked the horse. Well, no expert, anyway, although Doug O’Neill was on record as hoping his Derby horse, Happy Jack, bred by Calumet Farm, would “shock the world.”
Doug had the right train of thought, but it was Rich Strike, also bred by Calumet, that shocked the world in the mile-and-a-quarter classic. This is a horse that second time out, ran in a maiden $30,000 claiming race at Churchill Downs from which he was claimed last Sept. 21 after winning by 17 ¼ lengths at odds of 10-1.
The aptly named horse became the second-biggest longshot to win the world’s most famous race in 148 runnings, under jockey Sonny Leon, a 32-year-old native of Venezuela and a successful fixture at tracks in the hinterlands of Ohio who was winning his first Grade I race and virtually unknown to the hoi polloi.
Donerail won the 1913 Derby at odds of 91-1.
At the risk of red-boarding, even though Rich Strike was beaten 14 lengths by Derby favorite and runner-up Epicenter in the restricted Gun Runner Stakes at the Fair Grounds last Dec. 26, and had closed ground in shorter races against lesser at Turfway Park, a case could have been made for him to at least earn a minor placing.
But reality reigned.
No disrespect to his connections, but he likely wouldn’t have been 80-1 with such dismissive past performances had Steve Asmussen, Chad Brown or Todd Pletcher been listed as his trainer, or if he was being ridden by one of the Ortiz brothers.
As a result, this was a Kentucky Derby that produced an abundance of feel-good story lines, assuredly a boost for a game in need of them.
So, with condolences to the countless losers, congrats to Rich Strike, Sonny Leon, trainer Eric Reed and Oklahoma owner Rick Dawson who campaigns as RED TR-Racing LLC, on a fairytale victory for the ages.
OK: now inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
Breathe easy again and enjoy the ride.
NEIGE BLANCHE SEEKS SECOND SANTA BARBARA WIN
Neige Blanche, a French-bred mare with no apparent distance limitations in turf races, seeks her second straight victory in the Grade III Santa Barbara Stakes at a mile and a half on turf this Saturday.
The five-year-old chestnut trained by Frenchman Leonard Powell who is winning 26 percent of the time with 15 victories this meet, won the race last year by a nose under Juan Hernandez.
Now only two wins behind departed leader Flavien Prat at 72-70, Hernandez has ridden Neige Blanche in her last eight races and will be aboard again Saturday.
“She’s doing extremely well,” said Powell, who has Neige Blanche set for her final major Santa Barbara breeze tomorrow.
“She has a natural style that allows her to settle early and finish strongly, and Juan seems to fit her very well.”
Neige Blanche has seven wins from 17 starts overall, four of the victories coming from 11 races in the United States, two at the marathon distance of a mile and a half, one in last year’s Santa Barbara, the other in the Grade III Astra Stakes Jan. 17 at Santa Anita where she is two for two at the distance.
FINISH LINES: Linemaker Jon White reports Derby winner Rich Strike earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure while paying $163.60 to win…Juan Hernandez and Phil D’Amato teamed for a 2 ¼ length victory in yesterday’s Grade III Senorita Stakes with Irish-bred Island of Love. With the win, Hernandez now has 14 stakes wins at the meet, one behind Flavien Prat. D’Amato got his 37th stakes victory, four-up on Doug O’Neill at 33…Hit the Road, winner of the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile on March 6, 2021, is back at Santa Anita following a respite after finishing eighth in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 29. “I sent him to the farm for a break after the Pegasus,” trainer Dan Blacker said, referring to Kingfisher Farms in the Santa Ynez Valley town of Solvang. “He’s been jogging and is almost ready to start galloping for a Del Mar campaign. He looks really good and I’m excited to have him back.” . . . With assistant trainer Juan Leyva in the saddle, Grade I Runhappy Malibu Stakes winner Flightline worked five furlongs today in 59.20 as trainer John Sadler continues to prepare the unbeaten $1 million son of Tapit for the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park on June 11. The time was a tick slower than the bullet 59 flat recorded by Doug O’Neill maiden Seven Exes, winless in three starts and unraced since Oct. 9, 2021. In all, there were 193 recorded workouts Sunday, 48 on the training track where leading trainer Phil D’Amato sent out 11 runners . . . Santa Anita will be dark for live racing Monday through Thursday. Live racing resumes 1 p.m. Friday, May 13…Handicapper James Leal is Tom Quigley’s simulcast guest today.
PHOTO CREDIT: COADY PHOTOGRAPHY
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