A Ride For The Ages

The outcome of the Kentucky Derby was, (how to be kind?) highly improbable.

But, to quote Al Michaels announcing a certain hockey game; “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!”

An 80-1 shot named RICH STRIKE, Won the GI Kentucky Derby Saturday at Churchill Downs.

But how, in the name of SECRETARIAT, did he do it?

RICH STRIKE certainly benefitted from a pace meltdown, ran the race of his life and, most crucial, got one of the best rides in Derby history from a guy you probably never heard of.

His name is Sonny Leon and he outrode Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat, the brothers Ortiz and a bunch of Hall Of Fame jockeys. Who knew? At 80-1 not many.

Winning trainer Eric Reed said of Leon; “He gave him the greatest ride I have ever seen.”

About that ride: Breaking from the 20 Post, Leon made a beeline for the rail right out of the break. Horses from the 20 post are traditionally five, six wide in the first turn. Leon, (age 32), had him in the two path.

He was 17th down the backstretch and the jockey was patient, obviously realizing that a premature move would do him in.

RICH STRIKE was motoring at the three-eighths pole and Leon had a decision to make. He could try to go around horses, which would have guaranteed a clear run to the wire, or he could take his chances and hope a hole would open up on the rail where he could save ground.

He went inside, but MESSIER was in his way. Leon stayed calm and steered his mount around the gassed MESSIER.

From there, with a clear path to the wire, RICH STRIKE touched off and ran like a Champion. He Won by 3/4 of a length over EPICENTER and 2021 Eclipse Award Winning jockey Joel Rosario. ZANDON ran 3rd with Flavien Prat aboard.

So, just who the heck is Sonny Leon?

According to Equibase, Leon a native of Venezuela, has had 5,175 mounts in the U.S. with 769 Winners. He made his riding debut in North America in 2015, when he Won all of nine races. Prior to the Derby, he had never Won a Graded Stakes race.

After coming over from his native country, Leon found his niche. He became a big deal on the Ohio racing circuit. He’s Won the last four riding titles at Mahoning Valley and was second in the standings at the 2021 meet at Belterra Park and third at the 2020 meet there.

He warmed up for the Derby by riding five horses Friday at Belterra. His last Win before the Derby came in a $5,000 Claimer.

Leon said he’s going to spend the next few days vacationing with his family in Tampa. Then it will be back to work, at Belterra, with the $5,000 Claimers and the Ohio-breds.

Then there will be the GI Preakness, where the pundits probably won’t give this horse much of a chance. Won’t be another pace meltdown like there was in the Derby, they will say. And correctly so.

Leon’s next Winner will surely be back at Belterra in a race that doesn’t matter all that much.

But he will always have the 2022 Kentucky Derby. It was his moment, his two minutes–2:02.61 to be exact–of fame.

The horse did his part, but he never would have Won if not for a perfect ride from his jockey.

For that, the horse racing universe offers a collective tip of the cap to Sonny Leon.

2 thoughts on “A Ride For The Ages

  1. GREAT ride, I’ll give him that much credit. But it’s coming out that the guy’s a bit of a thug in the saddle. 3 suspensions in the last 9 months for careless riding totaling 32 days. Sanctioned for presenting altered and false documents from a physical exam to racing stewards in West Virginia. And most importantly to me, sanctioned for inflicting visible injuries to his horse via misuse of the whip.
    I see they aren’t racing in the Preakness and personally I wouldn’t care if I didn’t see him again. He can join Bobbo on the sidelines.


    1. Well Ev, I can’t speak to the altering of documents, but I would dare say that what qualifies as “aggressive” riding on the secondary, Ohio racing circuit, would not cause New York stewards to bat an eye, nor flash the inquiry light. I have seen the Ortiz boys do things in the saddle, that apparently would get them thrown out of Ohio. That said, I’m anxious to see if RICH STRIKE will indeed come to New York- home to the most talented jockey colony in the world.


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