LOUISVILLE, KY. – Jockey Flavien Prat won four races on the Kentucky Derby undercard Saturday. He thought he was going to win the big one, too.
Prat was aboard Zandon, owned by Jeff Drown of St. Cloud. The third choice at 6-1, Zandon ran a strong race, tucking in near the rail in the early going and settling in mid-pack. Prat guided the colt through traffic to get into striking position, and exiting the final turn, the jockey swung him outside.
Zandon, who closed beautifully in his two previous races, engaged leader Epicenter in the stretch. Rich Strike surprised Prat — and everyone else at Churchill Downs — when he swept through along the rail to win the race.
"To be honest, when I got next to Epicenter, I thought I was going to win it,'' Prat said. "I had a good trip. At the eighth pole, I thought I was going to be a winner."
Zandon paid $5.60 to show. He earned $300,000 for his third-place finish, making him a millionaire. The colt's career bankroll is now $1,013,000.
Jockey Manny Franco rode Zozos, the other Minnesota-owned horse in the race. Zozos stayed close to the pace early on, sitting just behind leaders Summer is Tomorrow and Crown Pride.
He was third at the half-mile mark, and as the pacesetters approached the final turn, Zozos sat just outside Messier in fourth. He began to fade as the horses moved through the turn, and Zozos finished in 10th place.
"The pace was hot," Franco said. "I was right where I wanted to be. The other horses were better than him today."
Like Prat, Steve Asmussen thought he had a Derby victory, too. The trainer of Epicenter, Asmussen had been saying for weeks he believed his colt would be the one to end his 0-for-23 streak at the Kentucky Derby.
Epicenter went off as a 4-1 favorite. Like Zandon, who tracked him much of the way, Epicenter stayed in the middle of the 20-horse field through the first part of the race. He surged to the front at the one-mile mark, but Rich Strike — who only got into the Derby on Friday when Ethereal Road scratched — kept Asmussen winless with his late rush.
"I can't believe it after Epicenter's effort,'' Asmussen said. "And the scenario in which I went 0-for-24, you couldn't make it up. I got beat by the horse that just got in."
Epicenter's jockey, Joel Rosario, was equally disappointed. He said his colt ran "a tremendous race" and did everything he was asked.
"Everything was perfect,'' he said. "We thought we were home. We ran too good to get beat.''
Tale of perseverance
Rich Strike's trainer, Eric Reed, didn't think he would ever run a horse in the Kentucky Derby. The longtime horseman has won 1,444 races since beginning his career in 1985 with two horses his father gave him, but he races at more modest levels.
Reed nearly got out of the racing business in 2016, after a barn fire killed 23 horses at his Mercury Equine Center near Lexington, Ky. He persevered, just like Rich Strike did in his Derby victory Saturday.
"To have that happen, I thought something might be telling me it's the end of the line," Reed said. "And then, I had a few trainers that sent me texts. They told me, 'Don't let this take you out. We'll help you.'
"And I think that kept me going."
Neither Reed nor jockey Sonny Leon planned to party late on Saturday. Reed had to get up early Sunday to tend to his horses, and Leon is headed off to a Florida vacation with his family.