When a long shot pays off: Forum reporter shares the story of her trip to the 2022 Kentucky Derby
The Forum's Wendy Reuer talks fashion, betting and more.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — I've spent about half my life in horse racing. Yet, I rarely bet. When I do, I like to go with the horse that has a story, the long shot, the underdog.
But, when I was at the betting window of Churchill Downs, in Louisville on Saturday, May 7, I had no idea how long of a shot my $2 bet on the No. 21, Rich Strike, really was.
We plopped down less than $10 on the race overall, betting the two favorites, No. 3 and No. 4, to win along with the No. 21, which I picked because he looked like a horse my family raced, champion Eye of a Streaker. Oh, and I like the number 21.
It wasn't until after the race and Rich Strike was making his way to the winner's circle that I heard from the announcer he had been the long shot with 80 to 1 odds. Our $2 bet had just earned us $163.60, but best of all, I'd just witness the epitome of what makes horse racing so amazing. A better story behind the winner of the Kentucky Derby couldn't be written.
The odds were staked against Rich Strike from the start, and I don't mean that in handicapping terms. The horse had been claimed off the track for $30,000 for a small-time trainer and new owner. He wasn't bought for millions by some corporate partnership or old money extravagance. He missed an initial gate position by just one horse and got into the race just a day before the derby due to the dumb luck of another's scratch.
He was starting from the most outside hole, the toughest position. He trailed the entire race until after rounding the final turn when he came from 17th place, weaved in and out of horses like they were standing still, to take the win from dueling favorites in the final strides.
In just two minutes, Rich Strike reminded us all what can really happen when you have faith and don't give up. He reminded us that you can overcome just about any obstacle. And, you don't have to come from money or the power to win. You just have to believe.
If you haven't had a chance to watch the race, I highly suggest it. Rich Strike ended up being the longest shot to win the Kentucky Derby in 100 years and the second longest shot in history. Being able to witness such a race in person was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but any trip to the Kentucky Derby will be. I'm a firm believer it should be on everyone's bucket list to do at least once.
This was my third visit to the Kentucky Derby, and my first time in the grandstand rather than the infield. It was the first Kentucky Derby for my dear friend, class sculptor and fellow University of Minnesota Morris alum, Eric Knoche, who currently lives in Asheville, N.C.
The history and tradition of the Kentucky Derby is just one of the many things that make it special. 2022 was the 148th running of the race that draws attention from all over the world. About 100,000 people voyage to Churchill Downs, where as you approach, the grandeur of the facility impresses upon you the magic and tradition steeped into the towering twin spires and massive grandstand, paddock and Horse Racing Museum area.
The hats, the outfits and shoes are as much a part of the Kentucky Derby as mint juleps and the horses themselves. I tried to prepare Knoche for the variety of outfits, demographics and behaviors we would see at the derby ahead of time, but the melange of it all is hard to take in.
The shirts or jackets jockeys wear in each race are called "silks" and represent each horse's owners. My family's ranch is called Rocking Diamond Quarter Horses and my mom, a trainer, designed our silks, which are white with a rainbow stripe and our brand. In planning our outfits, I wanted to represent the ranch. I'm not sure if Knoche was just willing to placate me and be silly, but he was on board when I told him he'd be wearing pastels.
For my part, I went with a fascinator this year (a large hat that is fascinated on the head by headband or barrette) and added a pink tulle skirt that I've had for years — because what's more fun than a tulle skirt — and I topped it off with little white gloves — what's more southern charm than ladies gloves?
The morning of the derby, Knoche and I put the finishing touches on our outfits, from adding the diamonds to my gloves to the the ranch colors on my hat and completing a custom pocket square to match our brand. We fit right in among the Sunday best-dressed crowd that ranged from high end couture to men in suits decorated with dollar bills.
For anyone interested in attending the derby, it's never too early to start planning the trip. It's always held on the first Saturday of May. Seat prices are dependent on location and usually go on sale early in the year. But, to get the best price, sign up at the Churchill Downs website to be placed on the presale lists.
A less expensive option for the derby is to get infield tickets. For less than $100, you will have access to the paddock and backside of the grandstand, and there are many food and drink options as well as side entertainment at the infield, but you'll have a limited view of the actual race.
But, you don't have to wait until next May to experience the thundering excitement of horse racing, because live racing will return to Fargo's North Dakota Horse Park in July and begin in Belcourt, N.D., at Chippewa Downs in June. There, you'll not only see Thoroughbreds run, but also Quarter Horses, which my family races, and are known as the sprinters. Quarter Horse races are generally between 250 yards and 400 yards rather than the average mile of a Thoroughbred race.
Fargo will even offer a chance for men and women to don their best hats and bow ties this summer. The North Dakota Horse Park will host North Dakota Derby Day on Saturday, July 30, which will include a derby hat and bow tie contest and prizes. There will be signature drinks on hand as the North Dakota Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse Derby are run.
While the Fargo track may be much younger than Churchill Downs, betters still have a chance to win big, and watch a horseman's dreams and hard, hard work come to life at the wire.