Know Your Horse: How You Win the 2022 Kentucky Derby

In an interview after his dramatic come-from-behind win in the 2022 Kentucky Derby, jockey Sonny Leon said, "I know my horse. I knew we had a chance to win the Kentucky Derby."

Given the 80-1 odds against Rich Strike winning the title, many people would have laughed at Sonny Leon if he said that before the race.

Rich Strike faced computational odds, statistical data disguised as hard evidence. But it's true, Rich Strike was most likely not going to win the Kentucky Derby.

Watch the video to see just how far behind Rich Strike was when he found the gap and took on the front-runners.

How You Win: Lessons from the 2022 Kentucky Derby

Work with what you have

Rich Strike was a discard. He had been acquired by his current owners for only $30K. The horse barely qualified for the Kentucky Derby, which had described his performance to date as "questionable."

Most people have a hard time seeing past the reality of their current situations. It's why we have trouble making breakthroughs; we see ourselves as others see us and vice-versa. If you're driving a 2005 Honda Accord, it's hard to imagine you parking in the CEO spot.

Sonny Leon developed a bond with Rich Strike that conveyed respect for the horse's potential and faith in the outcome.

Instead of listening to the neigh-sayers, wishing they could afford a better horse, Leon and team put all their energy into pushing Rich Strike to his limits.

If you don't have a "sure thing," you can work with what you have or whine about it.

Remain calm, cool, and collected

Notice how patient Sonny remains during the tense event.

Imagine the adrenaline running through him: how much is at stake.

Still, he holds back in the pack.

Also watch how he doesn't celebrate immediately after crossing the finish line.

Notice his confident, matter-of-fact attitude during the interview. Being confident and calm at the same time is how you win.

Oblivious to the odds

Imagine what it must be like to run horse that was discarded for $30K, which was ridiculed in print by the organization sponsoring the event, and which had a performance record yielding 80-1 odds against it winning the race.

Then imagine not internalizing those odds, or making the voices of haters your own inner monologue.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen.

That's how you win.

Smart energy expenditure

Any long-distance runner knows the art of pacing.

We need to cultivate a felt sense of how much juice we have in the tank and how many mpg we get out of our machine, whether human or horse.

Sonny Leon was smart about pacing himself and his horse. Without sensible pacing, Rich Strike would not have had a surge of energy powerful enough to achieve the upset.

Being mindful: Recognizing an opportunity and seizing it immediately

The replay says it all.

Several horses pulled away, and at once, Sonny guided Rich Strike into the gap. Had he hesitated, another horse and rider would have taken advantage of the opportunity. We need to be mindful at all times so that we see opportunities for what they are, and grab them without a moment's hesitation. Doing so requires being fully prepared for those opportunities when they arise.


Sonny Leon's faith in his horse oozes out of his voice when he speaks in post-race interviews. He illustrates the difference between wishful thinking on a long shot and the faith that comes from hard work and daily cultivation.

Thank you to Sonny Leon and Rich Strike for a shining example of how you win.

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