Trainer Eric Reed nearly ‘lost everything’ in a barn fire. Now he’s a Kentucky Derby winner
“I don’t know how (to put the win into words). I fell down in the paddock when he hit the wire. I about passed out. I’m so happy,” Reed told NBC after the race, flanked by his father and owner Richard Dawson of RED TR-Racing.
In the final stretch of the race, it looked like Steve Asmussen, the all-time wins leader for North American jockeys, was about to end his much-talked about Derby drought with a win from Epicenter. Instead, it was Rich Strike who grabbed the win with a late charge.
The win came in Reed’s first Kentucky Derby.
“We don’t go out and buy the big horses,” Reed said. “We just try to have a good, quality stable. We always perform well, our percentages are always good. We take care of the horse first, and the rest falls into place.”
A Lexington-based trainer, Reed entered the Derby with just one graded stakes win in his career.
The win came six years after a devastating fire caused by lightning killed 23 horses at his Mercury Equine Center in Lexington. Shortly after learning Rich Strike would make the 20-horse Derby field after a Friday scratch from Ethereal Road, Reed told reporters he was uncertain if he would ever train again after the fire.
Only 13 animals made it out of the fire alive.
“When we drove up on that that night, I told my wife, I said, ‘We’ve probably lost everything,'” Reed said. “By the grace of God, the wind was blowing in a direction that kept it from getting to the other two barns. The next morning when we saw the devastation, because this happened in the middle of the night, I just thought of all the years and all the stuff we had done to get this beautiful farm and have this happen, that something might be telling me it’s the end of the line.”
Instead, Reed was touched by the large number of people who came out to help in the aftermath of the fire. Many were friends. Others were strangers who had seen the story.
Several high-profile trainers, who Reed did not name, reached out with promises to help him find clients and horses in the aftermath of the fire.
“I think that kept me going,” Reed said. “Then I just decided I wasn’t going to let it take me out. Thank God, we’re here today.”
As Reed struggled to make sense of the improbable win, he stood alongside his father, Herbert Reed, a former trainer who never reached the heights his son just had. Herbert was a former assistant trainer under Mack Miller, who won the 1993 Kentucky Derby with Sea Hero.
“If you find something you love to do, you never work,” Herbert Reed said. “He found something he loved to do, and he’s good at it. I’m as proud as I can be of him.”
The chances of Reed even having a horse in the field were astronomical.
The trainer of Ethereal Road, D. Wayne Lukas, had won the race four times with 49 career starts, second-most of any trainer. Reed, meanwhile, does not even have a Wikipedia page.
Reed’s training career began in 1983. He scored his first stakes win with Native Drummer in 1986 in the Forego Stakes at Latonia.
The Mercury Equine Center website lists Reed’s career highlights as a win with Satan’s Quick Chick in the Grade 2 Lexus Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland in 2009 and a near-miss of beating star filly Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes with Rinterval in 2010.
Now there is one more.
“I never thought I would have a Derby horse,” Reed said. “I never tried to go to the yearling sale and buy a Derby horse. I just wanted to buy my clients a horse that would keep them happy, have some fun and make a little money. If we got a good one, terrific. This was never in my thoughts.”
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