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'A lot of screaming going on': Ocala farm cheered as horse it broke won the Kentucky Derby

Ocala StarBanner logo Ocala StarBanner 5/10/2022 Danielle Johnson, Ocala Star-Banner

At 80-1 odds heading into Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, last-minute addition Rich Strike was the longest shot in the field at Churchill Downs in Louisville. 

Sporting No. 21 in a field of 20, the chestnut colt only entered the race after Ethereal Road was scratched on Friday morning. For those watching at home, the horse was in the back of the pack for most of the race, even off the screen at times, until passing several horses in the home stretch to finish first

As owner Rick Dawson said after the 148th Run for the Roses, “We’ve never entered a race we didn’t think we could win, ever.” 

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Rich Strike was the first Derby horse ever for Dawson, trainer Eric Reed and jockey Sonny Leon – and also the first Derby tie for Mayberry Farm in Ocala. 

“It was probably around the 3/8 pole, I was looking for Rich Strike. I'm like, ‘Where is he?’ " April Mayberry, who owns the farm with her sister Summer Mayberry and mother Jeanne Mayberry, recalled. “And all of a sudden obviously at the end he just snuck up the rail, and my house was insane. I had friends over, and I’m lucky my neighbors didn’t call the police. There was a lot of screaming going on.” 

From rambunctious colt to Kentucky Derby champ

The underdog’s story may have started in Lexington, Kentucky, where he was bred by Calumet Farm, but like many thoroughbred racehorses, he spent some of his training days in Ocala. 

Now 3 years old, the colt was foaled on April 25, 2019. He was sired by Keen Ice, which finished seventh in the 2015 Derby and won two graded stakes in his career. His dam, Gold Strike, won a graded stakes race as well. Her sire Smart Strike, whom Mayberry says Rich Strike resembles, won two graded stakes races. 

As a yearling, Rich Strike was broken for Calumet at Mayberry Farm by rider Eddie Ordonez. The horse trained there from fall of 2020 to May of 2021 with nearly 20 other horses from the same client. 

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“He was just kind of still a teenager when he left. Sometimes the colts, they remind me of high school boys,” Mayberry joked. “They do everything except what they're supposed to do, and that's kind of common in the thoroughbred colts. They’re rambunctious and still playing and they're not serious yet.” 

Still, she says Rich Strike was a "pretty good boy." She recalls thinking he probably had some talent, “but it was going to take him a little while to find it.” 

Mayberry Farm has broken and trained other successful horses, like 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and 2010 American Horse of the Year Zenyatta, as well as Flightline, which is currently undefeated in three starts. 

Ranking the Derby finishes: Where does Rich Strike's win rank among the all-time Kentucky Derby upsets?

Horse trainer April Mayberry, left, poses with her mom, Jeanne Mayberry, right, also a horse trainer, at their Ocala Breeders' Sales training barn Tuesday morning. April Mayberry and rider Eddie Ordonez broke and trained 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike at her Mayberry Farm in Ocala. The horse was an 80-1 longshot that made it into the derby only after a last-minute scratch on Friday. © Doug Engle, Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner Horse trainer April Mayberry, left, poses with her mom, Jeanne Mayberry, right, also a horse trainer, at their Ocala Breeders' Sales training barn Tuesday morning. April Mayberry and rider Eddie Ordonez broke and trained 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike at her Mayberry Farm in Ocala. The horse was an 80-1 longshot that made it into the derby only after a last-minute scratch on Friday.

Mayberry herself previously worked for Bob Baffert when his horse Silver Charm won the 1997 Kentucky Derby Preakness Stakes, followed by Real Quiet winning the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. 

Horses run in the family, too, as Mayberry's great-grandfather had trained 1903 Derby winner Judge Himes.

After his time in Ocala, Rich Strike was sent to trainer Joe Sharp and then claimed by Reed for Dawson, who owns RED TR-Racing LLC, for $30,000 last fall at a low-level claims race.

Heading into the Derby, he had only won one of seven races and placed third in three more, but Rich Strike’s second career victory on Saturday earned his team $1.86 million. 

Rich Strike, left, with jockey Sonny Leon aboard, wins the Kentucky Derby. © Michael Clevenger and Christopher Granger/Courier Journal Rich Strike, left, with jockey Sonny Leon aboard, wins the Kentucky Derby.

'Horses don't know what their odds are'

To Mayberry, it was more amazing that Rich Strike got in at “the 11th hour” following Ethereal Road’s scratch than that he was a long shot. 

“It’s horse racing, and I’m fourth generation. This has been my entire family’s life, and when you’ve done it for as long as we have, you see things happen,” she said. “If they come out of the starting gate, anything can happen. Did I think he was a shoo-in? No, but stranger things have happened.” 

Rich Strike was the second longest shot to ever win the Derby, behind Donerail, a 91-1 winner in 1913 in a smaller eight-horse field.

Jeanne Mayberry gets a big kiss from her horse by Klint out of Lionheart Champion Tuesday morning. Her daughter, horse trainer April Mayberry, talked about training 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, at her Ocala Breeders' Sales training barn Tuesday morning. Rich Strike was broken by rider Eddie Ordonez at Mayberry Farm in Ocala. © Doug Engle, Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner Jeanne Mayberry gets a big kiss from her horse by Klint out of Lionheart Champion Tuesday morning. Her daughter, horse trainer April Mayberry, talked about training 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, at her Ocala Breeders' Sales training barn Tuesday morning. Rich Strike was broken by rider Eddie Ordonez at Mayberry Farm in Ocala.

As Mayberry says, though, “horses don't know what their odds are.” 

In addition to making headlines for the victory, Rich Strike gained attention for his attempts to bite an outrider and pony guiding him after the race, providing entertainment and concern to some viewers. 

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“That adrenaline is just pumping through them and I'm sure either he didn't know what was happening or just like a kid having a temper tantrum, same thing,” Mayberry said. “He was kind of a tough guy (at her farm) but not mean.” 

Reed has also said Rich Strike is not a mean horse but was in race mode and didn't understand why they were slowing him down.

More: Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike bit Churchill Downs' lead pony and got punched for it

Rich Strike passed Derby favorite Epicenter and Zandon, which finished second and third, in the last seconds of the race before heading to the winner’s circle, where he was draped in roses. Ocala-born Simplification, which is owned by local Tami Bobo, finished fourth, followed by several other horses with Marion County ties

Reed plans for Rich Strike to run at the Preakness Stakes on May 21 in Baltimore for the second leg of the Triple Crown. 

Mayberry expects the horse to be competitive again, so if you live near her and hear any screaming that day, don’t be alarmed. She’s just cheering Rich Strike on. 

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at djohnson@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: 'A lot of screaming going on': Ocala farm cheered as horse it broke won the Kentucky Derby

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