Video from NBC Sports’ broadcast of the Derby shows Churchill Downs outrider Greg Blasi and jockey Sonny Leon struggling to get Rich Strike under control in the moments after the race. At 80-1 odds, Rich Strike surged past the favorite, Epicenter, and Zandon down the stretch to become the second-biggest longshot to win the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
After crossing the finish line, Rich Strike can be seen nipping at the lead pony’s neck and its reins, which prompts Blasi to begin punching the horse’s face.
“Still trying to get this horse under control here,” NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico says during the clip. “… still trying to bite the pony here as they try to get him under control.”
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The post-race moment sparked plenty of reactions on social media, with some Twitter users cracking jokes about the chaotic moment. Others questioned and offered explanations justifying Blasi’s decision to punch Rich Strike.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement that it plans to file a complaint against Blasi.
On Monday morning, Rich Strike trainer Eric Reed offered his perspective on the incident during an interview with the “Today” show. Speaking from Lexington, Kentucky, Reed praised the outrider for his efforts in trying to get Rich Strike to calm down after an intense race.
“The outrider’s job at the end of a race is to help get the leading horse and get him slowed down, take him around (and) let (the jockey) do the interview,” Reed said. “Richie, he was in killer mode. He was gonna outrun every horse on the track and he had not had a horse after the finish line come over to him, so when he saw that pony coming his way, he thought he had another horse to beat and he was trying to run by him.
“The man did his job. He reached out and grabbed ahold of the horse, and it made the horse mad. He didn’t know he was trying to help him. He thought he was supposed to outrun that horse, and he bit the guy’s leg terribly — bit his arm a couple, really bad bites,” Reed continued. “The horse is not a mean horse. He just was in race mode and he didn’t understand why they were grabbing him to slow him down.
“That man saved my horse from injury, because, had he got up in the air and lost my rider, he could have got loose. I’m sorry for the injuries (the outrider) sustained.”
On Sunday, Reed said he expects Rich Strike to run in the second leg of the Triple Crown — the Preakness Stakes on May 21 in Baltimore.