Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem May 9, 2022

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May 9th, 2022

A good Monday morning to you all! I hope everyone had a great Kentucky Derby weekend. As is often the case with big days of racing, the range of emotions we experience as horse racing fans and horseplayers is always a wide one. Whether it’s a favorite horse winning, a brutal beat on a Pick 4, or just the thrill of the Kentucky Derby, it’s a draining day.

I heard a lot of people in the aftermath of Rich Strike’s historic 80-1 victory saying that he reminded them of Mine That Bird. The comparisons, of course, seem obvious. A huge longshot, rallying up the rail, shocking everyone watching around the world, and not the big-name connections we’re used to seeing have success in the Kentucky Derby.

One of my favorite parts of the Mine That Bird journey through the Triple Crown series was that after the Kentucky Derby, everyone dismissed his chances in the Preakness and he delivered a huge run. People thought it was a fluke in the Kentucky Derby and surely he wouldn’t replicate it, especially against Rachel Alexandra. But he ran a super credible second in Baltimore, and to me that was always such an impressive thing given how unlikely he was to win in Louisville.

Personally, I had the same initial reaction to Rich Strike winning as I did Mine That Bird. One of shock, confusion, and curiosity to run back to the past performances and see who exactly this horse was, who was riding, who trained him, and how did he win?

I tweeted after the race that I thought originally that the No. 21 saddle towel that Rich Strike had on was the white towel that the No. 2 horse would wear, so I thought Happy Jack won! As it turns out, the 21 saddle towel is a very light purple with navy numbers. I don’t remember ever seeing the 21 in a race, so I just wasn’t prepared for what it would look like.

Within minutes, I was searching for more information about jockey Sonny Leon. Turns out, he’s a top rider in Ohio and just one day before the Kentucky Derby was riding at Belterra Park for trainer Eric Reed. I actually remember Eric running at River Downs when I worked there back in the mid-2000s. Sonny Leon’s agent, Jeff Perrin, was an agent back then at River Downs, and in the race office I remember taking entries from Jeff every day. So it’s pretty amazing to know his rider is now a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey. It was the first career graded stakes win for Sonny Leon. Imagine that, his FIRST career graded stakes win happens in the most important race in America and certainly one of the most prestigious in the world. 

I’m sure over the coming days we’ll be greeted with features and stories all about the connections of this horse. The fact that just minutes before scratch time they thought they weren’t going to get in only makes it more of a movie script-type story. Horse racing isn’t supposed to always make sense. Sometimes there are going to be head-scratching results. Sometimes we’ll get bad rides. Sometimes anything can happen. On Saturday anything did happen.

I realize every Derby feels a little different, both before, during, and after the race. Some years the horses I’m rooting for win. Some years they don’t. Some years, like this year, I didn’t even give the winner a second look. But this year, I went to bed feeling good about what I’d watched. I’ll certainly never forget the names Rich Strike, Sonny Leon, and Eric Reed ever again. And they’ll certainly never forget this past Saturday. So congrats to the winners. Now on to Baltimore!