By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
Gold Strike, a beautiful filly that was bred and raced by Manitoba’s Dick Bonnycastle out of Harlequin Ranches, was the Two-Year-Old Filly of the Year at Assiniboia Downs in 2004.
Trained by Blair Miller, she won the Debutante Stakes by 15 ½-lengths and then the Buffalo Stakes and was immediately sent to Woodbine for bigger races and bigger purses.
She had almost been forgotten, even here at the Downs, until her three-year-old baby colt, Rich Strike shocked the racing world on Saturday.
Rich Strike, a son of Manitoba’s Gold Strike (Kentucky bred by Calumet Farm: Sire: Keen Ice; Dam: Gold Strike (MB) by Smart Strike (ON), paying a stunning 80-1, whipped all the superstars on Saturday to claim a first prize of $1.86 million in the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby.
“I announced his momma’s races at Assiniboia Downs,” said a still-shocked Downs CEO Darren Dunn. “As I watched the finish, all I could think was, ‘isn’t that something!?’
“But we should remember that Rich Strike, longshot or not, he has a legitimate pedigree. His mother was quite a racehorse. She was a Sovereign Award winner who ran third in the Queen’s Plate and won the Woodbine Oaks, which is a very prestigious race. Who knows what she’s worth as a broodmare now?”
Rich Strike wasn’t even entered into the Derby until 30 seconds before the entry deadline when Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road from the race for health reasons. That gave the 21st entry, a chestnut colt that had only one previous win, a spot at the end of the second gate.
“We found out about 30 seconds before the deadline on Friday,” owner Rick Dawson told NBC Sports. “It put us in the race and really we always felt if we just got in we’ve got a shot.”
Rich Strike, ridden by first-time Derby jock Sonny Leon, virtually flew down the inside rail and overtook two of the pre-race favourites, Epicenter and Zandon about 100 yards from the finish. He completed the 1¼-mile race in two minutes, 2.61 seconds. Amazingly (again), Rich Strike lost to Zandon in his most recent start last month and was beaten by Epicenter in the John Battaglia Memorial in March. He paid $163.60 to win.
Rich Strike was purchased by Dawson for $30,000 last fall when the colt was entered in a low-level claiming race by his former owner, Calumet Farm. Calumet Farm has won a record eight Kentucky Derbies, but none since 1968, when Forward Pass was placed first via disqualification.
Gold Strike’s original owner and breeder, Richard A.N. (Dick) Bonnycastle, was a graduate of St. John’s Ravenscourt School and the University of Manitoba and was the son of Richard H.G. Bonnycastle, the world’s largest publisher of romantic fiction, the founder of Harlequin Romances and Harlequin Enterprises.
Dick Bonnycastle still lives in Winnipeg and turned 87 last September.
“I announced Gold Strike’s race when she broke her maiden at the Downs in 2006,” said Dunn. “Now, her son has won the Kentucky Derby. We were watching the race at the Downs and thinking, ‘now that Rich Strike is in the race, could it possibly win?’ This story is unbelievable. It’s proof that people who aren’t blue bloods in the racing industry can find an economic stakes horse and win the Kentucky Derby. It’s amazing. I mean, I’m in the odds business, but what are the odds of that?”