What history says about Rich Strike’s Preakness chances

Rich Strike’s 80-1 Kentucky Derby shocker was a reminder: who doesn’t love a longshot story?

Take a $30,000 horse, a hardscrabble horseman, an unknown jockey, and a small-time owner and what do you get? The biggest Derby upset in decades.

History tends to be kind to longshots. Mine That Bird will live on in our collective racing memories longer than some other horses that won the Derby and not much else. Always Dreaming, anyone?

So the Rich Strike story figures to last a while.

Sent off as the longest shot in the field of 20, Rich Strike broke a bit slowly, was in 18th place after three quarters of a mile, and was still 15th with just a quarter to go. But he rallied determinedly along the inside to prevail by three parts of a length over post-time favorite Epicenter – an upset for the ages.

He was perfectly prepared for the race by trainer Eric Reed, who’s been at this racing stuff for a long time. He was brilliantly ridden by heretofore unknown journeyman jock Sonny Leon. And he had a perfect pace scenario to allow him to shine.

Side note: in one of those bizarro world coincidences that racing occasionally conjures up, Leon’s first mount following the Kentucky Derby will come Friday at Belterra Park (where maiden special weight races go for a purse of $17,000) aboard a horse named – no lie – Kentucky Cool.

Oh, and his next mount for trainer Reed will be aboard – wait for it – Runaway Dreamer.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

Speaking of history, though, it also tells us something about how horses like Rich Strike fare in the Preakness. If it’s a reliable guide, the answer is… well, things aren’t looking great for a Triple Crown, put it that way.

Start with the way Rich Strike won the Derby, rallying from 18th place to win.

From 1996 through last year, eight horses won the Derby after being in 10th place or worse through the first-half mile; and seven of those came to Baltimore. Their combined Preakness record: 0-for-7, including defeats at 3-10 (Fusaichi Pegasus), 7-10 (Orb), and 6-5 (Street Sense).

Now, that might not seem so compelling if Derby winner struggled in the Preakness, but in fact, the reverse is true. Of the last 25 Derby winners to race in the Preakness, 11 completed the double.

Thus, the deep closers to win the Derby are 0-for-7 in the Preakness; all other Derby winners are 11-for-18. It makes sense: as in Saturday’s edition, the Derby occasionally produces insanely fast early paces that lay waste to major contenders who are too forwardly placed and give back-of-the-pack types a more than even shot. With a more compact field, the Preakness is less prone to that sort of scenario.

And then there’s the issue of longshots.

Rich Strike, at 80.80-1, was the second-longest-priced winner in Kentucky Derby history, after only Donerail in 1913. Donerail paid $184.90 to win, versus the relatively short $163.60 of Rich Strike.

Of the 10 shortest-priced Derby winners prior to Rich Strike, only one, Charismatic in 1999, came back to win the Preakness. And at 31-1, Charismatic caught a lot more eyes than did Rich Strike.

Prior to Rich Strike, the two most recent “what did I just see?” upsets in the Kentucky Derby belonged to Mine That Bird (2009) and Giacomo (2005). Both went off at 50-1 in the Derby, rallied from far back to win, and saw their Triple Crown hopes dashed in Baltimore, with Mine That Bird second to Rachel Alexandra and Giacomo third behind Afleet Alex.

One other similarity: both went off around 6-1, which might give you some idea of the odds to expect on Rich Strike come May 21.

The good news for Team Rich Strike: Derby winners usually run well in the Preakness, and an in-the-money finish in an American classic race is nothing to sneeze at. The bad: history suggests winning may be a heavy lift.

Still, whatever happens in Baltimore, Eric Reed, Sonny Leon, and owner Rick Dawson will always have Louisville.


  • Rich Strike tries to chomp the outrider's pony. Photo Coady Photography.
  • RichStrike photo courtesy Skip Dickstein 02
  • RICH STRIKE after winning the Kentucky Derby. Photo Coady Photography.