AN IMPROBABLE AND HEARTWARMING KENTUCKY DERBY STORY FOR THE AGES

Thinking back over the sports events I’ve been privileged to see in person or on television, six come to mind as monumental upsets, without hyperbole.  They are not even arguable:

Cassius Clay TKOs Sonny Liston to win the World’s Heavyweight Championship, 1964
USA Hockey wins the Olympic Gold, the “Miracle on Ice,” 1980
Villanova beats Georgetown to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, 1985
Buster Douglas KOs Mike Tyson to win the World’s Heavyweight Championship, 1990
Mine That Bird wins the Kentucky Derby, 2009
Rich Strike wins the Kentucky Derby, 2022

All of these were supposedly David vs. Goliath situations, although in retrospect Cassius Clay turned Muhammed Ali became a great champion.  With hindsight, in the other contests the underdogs were seemingly hopeless longshots that charitably had a puncher’s chance, though the jury is still out on Rich Strike.

I can’t say that Rich Strike winning the Kentucky Derby is any more of a monumental upset than, say, the Miracle on Ice, but it ranks right up there with the greatest sports upsets of all time.  Prior to the Kentucky Derby, the colt had won one race from seven starts, was claimed for $30,000, had pedestrian speed figures and lost five races in a row, was trained by an individual that one does not associate with premier racing, and was ridden by a jockey that had never won a graded stake. The day before the Derby he was riding at Belterra Park in Cincinnati and had only Rich Strike as a mount on the Derby Day card.  Moreover, Rich Strike gained entry to the Derby field when D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road right before the deadline on Friday.

All of this makes for a narrative for the ages.  For years to come, the story will be told about the day Rich Strike and his connections bested the deep-pocketed owners and Hall of Fame trainers with huge stables of racehorses.  It is so rich in irony and improbability that the story won’t have to be embellished.

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