When Eric Reed returned to work on Sunday afternoon, his eyes were hooded and his voice was screechy and scratchy like an old transistor radio. Due to the very pleasant playback loop of his horse Rich Strike galloping up the fence of Churchill Downs and into the history books as the 80-1 victor of the 148th Kentucky Derby, he had been unable to sleep the night before.
Reed was the only one who could speak out in support of this unachievable ambition – at least for the time being. Prior to Rich Strike being an 11th-hour participant in the Derby, the horse’s rider, Sonny Leon, was on his way to Florida with his family for a vacation that had been planned long before Rich Strike became an 11th-hour entrant.
When you travel throughout Ohio and Kentucky to compete in more than 1,100 events every year, you take advantage of whatever opportunities for rest you can find. Leon was alright with taking a little diversion to Churchill Downs with his wife and 2-month-old kid.
Leon’s name was probably only known to the most committed railbirds at the time of his death. Before Saturday, Leon had never claimed a victory in a graded stakes race, which are regarded the premier championships of the sport. In the Derby, he was never able to get a ride.
There’s nothing to worry about. It seemed like the fifth race at Belterra Park or Mahoning Valley to Leon, a 32-year-old Venezuelan who treated it like the fifth race at either of those Ohio casino racetracks where spectators come more for the sound of slot machines than to watch thoroughbreds trot around in a circle.
Leon was determined to give Rich Strike the same level of work that had propelled him to the 11th-best jockey in the country in terms of wins in 2021. (Due to the meagre payouts for those victories, he remained largely unknown.) Also, he seemed unconcerned about the fact that 65 other riders earned more money than he did.
Rich Strike will now go to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes on May 21 in order to compete in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, which is considered the most prestigious event in the world. It is up to them and the horse’s owner, Rick Dawson, to revitalise a sport that has been harmed by a rejected Derby victory in 2021, as well as banned trainers, drug convictions, and dead horses.
“It’s something we really need,” Reed, 57, said of the boost Rich Strike has provided to the racing industry. “And here we are, a bunch of tiny men who can make a difference in the sport.” We demonstrated that with a little luck, a lot of hard effort, and doing things the correct way, we can make these things happen.”
Reed has had to take a stance in the past. Having learnt his trade from his father, Herbert, who was a previous trainer himself, he was at his son’s side during the whole Derby experience.
It is true that he has been going to the track with me since he was six years old, according to Herbert Reed. And when he was eight years old, he was able to put a spider bandage on a horse, which most people aren’t even aware of what it is.”
When Eric Reed informed his father that he intended to forego college in order to train horses, Herbert Reed was relieved that his son had discovered something he enjoyed doing.
“When I was younger, my father handed me two horses and said, ‘Do you want to be a trainer?'” Eric Reed recalls the incident. “‘Look, here are two horses. ‘You work as a trainer.'”
Having competed in more than 9,000 races and earning 1,445 wins, the majority of which have come on backwater tracks in Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky, Reed’s horses have amassed more than $24 million in prize money. Reed had a windfall in the form of a $1.8 million first-place prize for winning the Derby, but it was not enough to provide him with a comfortable lifestyle. His horse-saddling duties this week include the Horseshoe Indianapolis, the Mountaineer in West Virginia, and Belterra.
A little over six years ago, Reed believed he was done with the horse industry. A lightning strike sparked a fire at his Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, Kentucky, that claimed the lives of 23 horses.
I simply thought about all the years and all the hard work we had put in to achieve this magnificent farm the following morning when we woke up to see the damage — since it had occurred in the middle of the night. The fact that it has happened suggests that something is telling me that I’m at the end of my rope.”
Instead, friends turned up the following morning to brighten Reed’s spirits and help him begin the process of rebuilding. Within a few days, horse enthusiasts from all around the world flocked to the property to provide a hand.
In any case, it’s on to Baltimore, where the team will be led by Rich Strike, a horse who cost $30,000 and was purchased by a workaholic jockey who was desperate for a break from his demanding schedule.
We were aware of what we had because “I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve had some pretty great horses,” Reed said. “We were certain that we had a horse that was capable of racing well.” As a result, lightning may strike at any time for anybody involved in this industry.”