Sonny Leon Looking to Make More History in Travers
Cuts Friday Schedule Short at Gulfstream to Fly to N.Y.
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Sonny Leon had been scheduled to ride in eight of nine races on Friday’s program at Gulfstream Park, where he has proven popular with trainers since relocating from the Ohio racing circuit. However, the 32-year-old jockey changed his plans Friday morning to make sure he will be at Saratoga in plenty of time to ride Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Rich Strike in Saturday’s Travers Stakes (G1).
“I figured it out with my agent and decided to ride my first four mounts today and then leave for the airport,” said Leon, who originally was scheduled to fly to Albany, N.Y. early Saturday morning.
Leon and Eric Reed-trained Rich Strike shocked the world on the first Saturday in May with an 80-1 upset victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1) aboard Rich Strike. Leon provided Rich Strike with a ground-saving ride at Churchill Downs, leaving the rail aboard the son of Keen Ice only long enough to pass tiring rivals.
“It’s history. We did something special nobody has done in 50 years, maybe more. It was very exciting to be successful in the Kentucky Derby. It was a good inspiration for a lot of people at the racetrack,” said Leon, who was the second Venezuela jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, joining Gustavo Avila, who rode Canonero II to a shocking victory in 1971. “A lot of people said to me, ‘If you didn’t ride the race the way you rode, maybe you don’t win the race.’ I thank God for the opportunity and be able to do something special for the fans and public.”
Rich Strike, who drew into the Derby when Ethereal Road was scratched the day before the first leg of the Triple Crown, was withheld from the Preakness Stakes (G1) and came back to run a disappointing sixth in the Belmont Stakes.
“I have a big opportunity [Saturday] in the Travers Stakes with Rich Strike,” Leon said. “We just got to be a little bit lucky to be in the Top 3.
Leon rode his first U.S. race at Gulfstream Park June 5, 2015, and notched his first of 807 victories in North America at Gulfstream a few weeks later. He switched his tack to the Northern Kentucky and Ohio circuit later that year and steadily established himself as a force in the jockey’s rooms while winning several titles and forming a good working relationship with Reed.