Rich Strike, the longest of longshots that went into the Kentucky Derby with odds of 81-1, won the 148th edition of the famed thoroughbred race on Saturday at Louisville’s Churchill Downs. Results were still awaiting official verification, however.
Epicenter, the 4-1 favorite pick, came in second. Zandon, at 6-1, ran third. The contest, dubbed the Run for the Roses, had a crowded field of 20 horses.
It was the first time the 1 1/4-mile race, which is the first leg of the Triple Crown, had been run at Churchill Downs without capacity restrictions since the start of the pandemic. The track had been accustomed to seeing crowds of 150,000, including everyone from celebrities to regular racing fans, for pre-pandemic Derbies.
On Saturday, Derby-goers were definitely back, despite cloudy weather. Reports said the venue was packed hours before the race.
“It feels like we have a normal life again,” Michelle Conforto, a milliner from California, told the Associated Press. It was Conforto’s 12th time at the event.
A Louisville Courier-Journal reporter tweeted that it was almost too crowded to move within the track’s infield section. “Very, very difficult to walk anywhere,” she said.
Among the boldface names on hand for this year’s race: musical artists Jack Harlow and Drake. But they were there to work: Harlow was making a video for his new song, “Churchill Downs,” which features Drake.
Former President Donald Trump, who campaigned the previous day in Pennsylvania for Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, was also in attendance.
The Derby generates huge business — not just for Churchill Downs, but also for the Louisville area. This year, spending tied to the race was expected to reach or exceed $400 million, according to one published report.
For thoroughbred owners who bring their horses to the Derby, there’s money to be potentially earned as well. This year’s total purse was $3 million, with $1.86 million going to the owner of the winner.
The 2021 Derby was marred by controversy. Medina Spirit won the race, but was later disqualified for testing positive for the drug, betamethasone, not a permitted medication. Bob Baffert, Medina Spirit’s trainer, was suspended by Churchill Downs for two years, and Mandaloun was declared the Derby victor