Sunday, June 16, 2024

Steven Ivory: My New Hero is a Horse

Rich Strike - Getty
Rich Strike – Getty

*Step aside Marvel and D.C. There’s a new protagonist in the universe of superheroes.  He’s real, not fantasy, and his only superpower is an instinctive will to win. I’m talking about Rich Strike, the badass thoroughbred horse that turned out the 2022 Kentucky Derby, and in the process gave those who witnessed his unlikely triumph an injection of inspiration.

I don’t know much about the Kentucky Derby or horse racing as a sport, but that’s the best part of Rich Strike’s story: You only need to know that this horse didn’t come to the Derby track with an illustrious resume of big-time wins. He didn’t even join the line-up of horses to run the race until a day prior after another horse dropped out.

No one was checking for Rich Strike—not the owners, trainers and jockeys of the other horses; not the workmen who look after the track and grounds; certainly not the people behind the windows taking bets who gave Rich Strike 80-1 odds.

The enthusiastic crowds in the stands weren’t checking for him. Nor was the television-viewing public.

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In fact, after the race, Eric Reed, Rich Strike’s trainer, when asked if he thought his horse could win, kept it real: “I thought if we could get him in, we could make a run. But win? I didn’t think that far.” Jockey Sonny Leon, riding Rich Strike, said he hoped they’d finish in the top ten.

Rich Strike didn’t get that memo.

View a video of the race shot from the air, and you’ll see that Rich Strike and Jockey Leon started from way behind. They didn’t take the lead until they crossed the finish line, leaving the Derby crowd and TV viewers shocked.

That’s when trainer Reed said he fainted momentarily, awakened by cheering people atop him the way football players pile upon a teammate in the end zone after he’s scored a touchdown.

For Rich Strike’s part, immediately after his stunning victory, he got into a brief skirmish with another horse. Now, Rich barely made it into the race; most didn’t expect him to even place. Then, after he wins, he gets into some mess with another thoroughbred. I love this horse.

Rich Strike’s win was more than just the triumph of a horse that almost nobody gave the time of day. In a sport often charged with mistreating these beautiful animals, Rich’s unexpected victory was a power pill to a nation in need of a win.

In the last few years, we’ve endured a lot—divisive politics, social strife, a pandemic that is physically, emotionally, and financially crippling, and the makings of a world war.

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The second he rocketed across that finish line, Rich Strike became an inspiration for anyone working to achieve a goal. The person searching for compatible employment, the individual determined to make their way out of a miserable relationship, the weary soul battling a frightening, debilitating illness, the lonely one seeking a partner, that person whose happiness feels like a long shot—in a fleeting, terrific moment, the odds-defying Rich Strike served sweet, dynamic notice: It doesn’t matter where we are on the racetrack of life, on any given day, at any moment, with firm belief and unwavering faith in that belief, things can change and we can win.

This horse is me. He’s you. Us. Let us dare to be this horse.

In typical hop-on-the-bandwagon fashion, folks are now saying that Rich Strike could go on to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the other two prizes that comprise thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown.

That would be fabulous, but it doesn’t matter to me. On a certain day, when the stars aligned, Rich Strike was no less than a marvel. And he wasn’t even wearing a cape.

Steven Ivory
Steven Ivory

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist, and author writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]

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