Nearly six years ago, Eric Reed almost called it quits from the horse training business.
A fire engulfed one of the barns at his Lexington, Kentucky, equine center, in the middle of a December night, killing 23 thoroughbred horses and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
“When we drove up on that that night, I told my wife, I said, ‘we’ve probably lost everything,’ ” Reed recounted this week. “The next morning, when we saw the devastation … I just thought of all the years and all the stuff we had done to get this beautiful farm and to have this happen, that something might be telling me it’s the end of the line.”
That was 2016.
Reed didn’t give up, and with friends – and sometimes strangers – who showed up to help, he continued training. “I just decided, I wasn’t going to let it take me out.”
It paid off: Reed is now a Kentucky Derby winner.
Rich Strike, the horse he trains, entered as the biggest long shot in the race (80-1 odds) and surged forward in the home stretch to cross the finish line first with a 2:02.61 time.
The victory was all the more stunning because Rich Strike wasn’t even in the field until Friday, when derby officials announced another horse pulled out. Reed told reporters he brought his team down a few days before the race, on the possibility the horse might get a chance to run, to begin preparing “against all odds.”
“Nobody thought we could get in,” he said. When the horse came in first place, Reed almost passed out. Rich Strike is his first winning horse in the derby.
“Everybody would love to win the Derby. I always would, but I never thought I would be here, ever,” Reed said.
Venezuelan jockey Sonny Leon, in his first Kentucky Derby, rode Rich Strike to the surprise victory. Rich Strike is owned by RED TR-Racing, LLC, according to the derby’s website.
The next leg of the coveted Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, will be run at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 21.
CNN’s Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.