By Michael Pineda
Within the span of just over two minutes, Rick Dawson’s life changed.
An Edmond resident who calls Yukon home, Dawson is the owner of Rich Strike, the winner of the 2022 Kentucky Derby.
Everybody loves an underdog story and Rich Strike’s story is among the best. Purchased for $30,000, Rich Strike had one win to his name and was not in the Derby field until the day before the race. Listed as an 80-1 longshot, Rich Strike surged from the back of the field to overtake the favorites and win the Derby.
In doing so, the horse drew comparisons to another underdog that became a legend, Seabiscuit.
“I have heard that comment so many times, in fact I had people call and text and email from all over the world.” Dawson said. “I have emails from everyone and it’s, ‘your horse is so inspirational to myself, my family, my friends, my coworkers.’ I had companies contact us saying, ‘We’ve replayed the video at our sales meeting and all our salespeople are excited.’
“We go to lunch and the whole restaurant is doing nothing but talking about the Derby. I have had sportswriters call me from New York and it’s the same deal. We were at the bar the other night having a beer and that’s all everybody talked about, Rich Strike, Rich Strike, he won the race and how it went down. People are making comments, it’s the greatest race I have ever seen. ‘I have seen 25 derbies in a row and this is the greatest race I have ever seen in my life.’”
Dawson described the experience as unbelievable. He said the last quiet moment he had was the morning after the race, sipping coffee at 5 a.m. in an apartment he has in Lexington, Kentucky.
In the morning, it is not uncommon for him to wake up to 25 to 30 texts, along with 25 to 30 emails and some missed calls. It was a continual cycle leading up to his announcement Rich Strike would not run in The Preakness.
Dawson attended Yukon Public Schools the majority of his school years but did not graduate as a Miller. He was in Yukon from second to 10th grade before going to Putnam City for his final two years. Those years remain near and dear to his heart, and he said many friendships have stood the test of time.
“One of my close buddies, Roger Brattin still lives in Yukon,” Dawson said. “He and I went to second grade together and he was at the track with me in Louisville and watched the race. He was in the winners circle suite with us.”
Other schoolmates that remain close friends included Danny Coughlin and Arch Tredway. There were also members of the 1974 state basketball team, such as Jimmy Gray, Donnie Neal and Neil Hazlebaker who Dawson played with a sophomore.
SKIPPING THE PREAKNESS
Many of the calls, texts and emails Dawson received after the Derby were inquiries into whether Rich Strike would run in The Preakness. Rich Strike was doing well after the race, jogging the following Tuesday and Wednesday and putting in a workout.
“He is perfect, he is ready to go,” Dawson said. “My trainer said he can’t be doing any better. So we are going to stick to the program and run in five weeks in New York.”
Leading up to the Derby, Rich Strike was on a program of racing every five weeks. The Triple Crown consists of three races in five weeks. Running in Baltimore and attempting to win a Triple Crown was tempting, Dawson said. In the end, the deciding factor came down to what is best for Rich Strike.
“I just know that that is not what is best for our horse,” Dawson said. “Maybe that’s what’s best for someone else’s horse, but it’s just not best for our horse. So we are going to wait and go to Belmont. Depending on how he does there and how he comes out, if we run really well and he’s doing well, then we will look at our next race.”
When asked if there could be an appearance of Rich Strike at Remington Park in the future, Dawson said he wouldn’t be surprised.
One thing is for certain, The Belmont will be highly anticipated with a field looking to beat the Derby winner.
“We will definitely have a target on our back and we understand that,” Dawson said. “When you are the champion, everybody wants to knock you down. We will take the challenge. We are not afraid of anybody.”
IMPACT OF WINNING THE DERBY
The investment of $30,000 to buy Rich Strike has paid off handsomely. Rich Strike’s value extends off the racetrack and plans are being made to take advantage of his brand in meaningful ways.
“We are working really hard, all kinds of people contact us for a million different reasons,” Dawson said. “But we are going to work real hard and we are going to stay put and make sure we protect Rich Strike, protect his name and his brand he built in two minutes – two minutes and two seconds to be exact. Not to make a lot of money. That has never been our motivation.
“Our motivation has been to do what’s right for the horse. It will open up a lot of doors for us to walk through and help others and propel several charities I work with that are very meaningful to me,” he said.
One such charity is Land 4 Heroes. Dawson found out about the charity from country music songwriter Colton James, who was raising money to build a lodge in Virginia for amputee veterans, first responders and other vets.
“It will be built in such a way that those folks, they can still participate and go fishing,” Dawson said. “They can go hunting and all that kind of stuff.”
Dawson said he was touched by the effort and jumped in. He contacted his cousin in Houston, Paul Coombs, who also went in, and they bought land in Virginia. With the success of Rich Strike, Dawson said it would allow them to speed the project along and get some things done for the veterans and first responders.
“There are other things I am looking at doing,” he said.
Dawson has never strayed far from Yukon, settling down in Edmond, where he is an owner of RedSky Companies. He plays golf with friends at Oak Tree Country Club and bets the horses at Thunder Roadhouse Cafe.
“I heard they broke the bank Saturday (May 7) because everybody was betting my horse,” Dawson said. “Remington had to bring cash out there and, eventually, they showed up with their checkbook and started writing checks.
“How much fun was that for everybody,” he said.
Dawson said he was planning to show up with caps for everybody, describing himself as a pretty grounded guy.
“I have worked my whole life to do that right thing and be the right kind of person,” he said. “That’s not going to change. This is not going to change us. We are just going to try and use it as a pole vault and do something else, and do something better for others and make a difference.
“Rich Strike will always be remembered as the Kentucky Derby horse, but what we hope happens is his name is even bigger than that. And people remember down the road and draw inspiration from what he has done and his ability to never give up.”
ODDS OF BELMONT WIN
Rich Strike may have shocked the world, but he did not shock his ownership and training team – at least not totally.
“We knew we had a great horse,” Dawson said. “We never for a minute doubted the fact that we could potentially make history.”
Dawson said it was believed that Rich Strike was getting better and better each time he ran. Adding it all up, it was believed that Rich Strike could run third or better.
“It just turned out he ran an incredible race, well beyond what we thought he would improve at,” Dawson said. “Was that his best race? We don’t think so.”