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Jockey Sonny Leon seems as surprised as anyone by Rich Strike’s long-shot Kentucky Derby win

<i>Ezra Shaw/Getty Images</i><br/>Jockey Sonny Leon rides long-shot Rich Strike over the finish line at the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Jockey Sonny Leon rides long-shot Rich Strike over the finish line at the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

By Theresa Waldrop, CNN

There may be some people who believed they could strike it rich with the racehorse Rich Strike — whose 80-1 odds in the 148th Kentucky Derby made him one of the longest shots in the race’s history — but his jockey Sonny Leon wasn’t one of them.

“I didn’t have an idea he could win the derby, the Kentucky Derby. But I had a very good feeling with him,” Leon told CNN’s Brianna Keilar and John Avlon Monday. Leon thought the horse could finish among the top 10, “but I didn’t expect he could really do it. Wow. Unbelievable,” he said.

Rich Strike wasn’t even added to the field until Friday, when another horse pulled out of the race. He was the biggest long-shot in the 20-horse field.

He began training for the race “against all odds,” Rich Strike’s trainer Eric Reed said after Saturday’s race. “Nobody thought we could get in.”

But that race turned into the stuff of horse-racing legend.

The dark horse — who is actually a chestnut — lagged in the far back at the start. Leon gradually wove him through, and it was only in the final seconds that Rich Strike took the lead.

The horse had the worst slot, starting from the far outside gate 20, but Leon used it to his advantage, he said.

“I had a very good view behind them,” Leon said, so he stayed calm and concentrated and looked for his opening.

It was the Venezuelan jockey’s first time riding in the Kentucky Derby, he said, and his first time winning a Grade 1 stake.

“And then we got the Kentucky Derby win,” he said. “Wow.”

The next leg of the Triple Crown will be the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 21, followed by the Belmont Stakes on June 11.

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CNN’s Kevin Dotson and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.

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