A Knave Competed in the Sport of Kings, and Instantly Became One

“We talked about this a year and a half ago,” he said. “We talked about never putting a horse in if it wasn’t ready, it wasn’t fit. And we just knew that we had a shot because every time he went longer, he got better. And today we go to a mile and a quarter and he just kept going.”

Both Dawson and Reed gave credit to a crafty ride by Leon, a Venezuelan, who looked as if he had cut his teeth in Saratoga rather than Ohio’s Thistledown. To put Leon’s drive and place in horse racing’s hierarchy into perspective, only 10 jockeys won more races than he did in 2021.

Sixty five of them, however, made more money than he did.

Leon guided Rich Strike almost 90 degrees out of the gate, going from the 20th path to the inside. Then, they rode the rail like a couple of hobos.

Leon and his colt were unhurried as they followed 17 other horses chasing a wicked early pace into the far turn.

“Nobody knows my horse like I know my horse,” Leon said.

Leon started guiding his horse through the pack, zigzagging like someone late for work on a busy Manhattan sidewalk. Ahead of them, Epicenter and Zandon looked each other in the eye for what was going to be duel to the wire in the middle of the track.

“I had to wait until the stretch and that’s what I did,” Leon said, “and then the rail opened up.”

Both Brown and Asmussen were leaning toward the winners’ circle. One of them, surely, was going to end up there. Instead, Leon and Rich Strike flashed past them like a bottle rocket.

“I got beat by the horse that just got in,” Asmussen said.

Brown was equally forlorn, sighing, “He just snuck up our inside.”

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