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Rich Strike with Kentucky Derby Roses

Horse Racing Stories

Was Rich Strike the Biggest Longshot to Win the Kentucky Derby

By: Rinaldo Del Gallo, III

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III

As soon as RICH STRIKE won the Kentucky Derby, I knew that his 80-1 odds were not the longest odds of a Kentucky Derby winner. That distinction would go to DONERAIL, who won at odds of 91-1.  Donerail was in a field that originally had 12 horses when four scratched.  Despite a much smaller field than that of Rich Strike, when Donerail finished first in the 1913 Kentucky Derby, he paid $91 for every dollar bet. Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009 went out at 50-1.

Rich Strike with Kentucky Derby Roses

Rich Strike with Kentucky Derby Roses:
Photo Credt: Sara Elbadwi

I had betted on and rooted for Mo Donegal, a horse that is owned by Donegal Racing—I am a cousin of Jerry Crawford’s wife. I knew the twenty horse Kentucky Derby field would be rough for a deep closer due to all the clutter of traffic, and on the final turn when Mo Donegal was swinging wide, I thought he might have been in another zip code.  He still finished a respectable fifth.  I suspect when Mo Donegal faces more typical field sizes, his deep closing tactics will be more successful—only time will tell.

But unknown to most of the public, there is a connection between Mo Donegal and the winner, Rich Strike.  As it turns out, Rich Strike was sired by KEEN ICE, a horse also owned by Donegal Racing.  Keen Ice famously upset American Pharoah in the Travers at Saratoga.

Rich Strike Kentucky Derby Winner

Rich Strike Kentucky Derby:
Photo Credit: Rob Radcliffe

I had watched the race at a brewery of a friend of mine, who asked how a horse could be numbered “21.” The horse was numbered “21” because he was an “also eligible” and the only reason Rich Strike ran is because ETHEREAL RAOD scratched out.  If another “also eligible” has won the Kentucky Derby, please let me know, for I do not know who it would be.

Donerail was sired by MCGEE, who sired a number of excellent stakes winners including the immortal EXTERMINATOR who won the 1918 Kentucky Derby.   Though Exterminator developed into one of the greatest horses of all time, his reputation was hardly cemented at the time of the Kentucky Derby in 1918 as he went off at odds of 30-1. The Kentucky Derby was Exterminator’s first start as a three-year-old and his prior effort was an allowance race in July of the previous year where he came in 4th, but only by ½ a length.

The other great thing of note about Rich Strike is that he is actually a claimed horse. I have never heard of a claimed horse winning the Kentucky Derby, but there you have it.  Apparently, Rich Strike raced a clunker at Ellis Park in his first start some 14 ½ lengths behind horses that are normally far from the best in the nation.

Sonny Leon

Rich Strike Jockey Sonny Leon
Photo Credit: Zulema Dewitz

Rich Strike was entered into a $30,000 claiming race at Churchill Downs on September 17, 2021 and was claimed.  Rich Strike won the claiming race (in which he was claimed) by 17 ½ lengths.  That would place Rich Strike in the realm of famously claimed horses such as PALACE, PRINCEQUILLO  (claimed at age 2), STYMIE and LAVA MAN (the richest claimed horse in history, whose dam was also claimed). John Henry ran in claimers but was not claimed.

While Rich Strike may be the only horse ever to have been claimed to win the Kentucky Derby (I don’t really know, I am just guessing), CHARISMATIC was a claimer and had run in two claiming races that his trainer Wayne Lucas snuck him in.   Charismatic won the 1999 Kentucky Derby (and Preakness).  It was good to see Wayne Lucas win the Kentucky Oaks again this year with Secret Oath. Mine that Bird was also a claimer, but not claimed.  For obvious reasons, claimers seldom win the Kentucky Derby, and it would not surprise me if Mine that Bird, Charismatic and Rich Strike are the only horses on the list–let me know if you can name another.

It was a thrilling race to watch!

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