NORTH RANDALL, Ohio — The eyes of the horse racing world will be on Northeast Ohio this weekend for the running of the Ohio Derby at JACK Thistledown Race Course. Competing for the purse of $500,000 is an impressive lineup of 3-year-olds including three horses that raced in the Kentucky Derby; Tawny Port, Classic Causeway, and White Abarrio as well as a fourth, Ethereal Road, the D. Wayne Lukas horse that was a last-minute scratch at Churchill Downs.
That was the move that opened up the Derby spot for the eventual winner, long-shot Rich Strike to enter. While Rich Strike won’t be racing Saturday at Thistledown, his rider will be Jockey Sonny Leon.
"I feel so good to go back to you know to Ohio for the big races, for a special day,” Leon told News 5.
Yes, Saturday will be a homecoming for him. He has had over 90 races at Thistledown including a win in last year's Kindergarten Stakes, he also has a lot of friends and fans here as well.
"I feel great because you know I go back with the Kentucky Derby trophy for everybody in Ohio, everybody that supported me, they are so proud of me // and wow it's going to be amazing to go back there and they say 'hey you're alright man, you win the trophy for us.'"
He said the past eight weeks have been a blur for him since winning the Kentucky Derby.
“Wow, my life's changed a lot. Now I got a lot of fans, I got a lot of people who they know who Sonny Leon and now we made history, that same name we can't shake that, we can't make that change now.”
And those fans will have plenty of opportunities to see Leon on Saturday, while he's not riding in the Derby itself he will be riding in six of the nine earlier races.
News 5 spoke with him Wednesday after a similar six-race day at Belterra Park in Cincinnati, asking him if it's tough to do.
“Well like today yeah because it was hot today, really hot but in the normal days? It's ok because you know I'm riding every single day."
And he’ll be able to draw off the energy of the fans Saturday, many of whom will be there as much to see him as the horses since that improbable Kentucky Derby win.
“I’m going to feel really good to know that,” he said of the fans. “They’re going to be excited to take a picture with me and get some things signed, the hat or the program. It's going to be a special day like for them, like for me too you know because I'm going to feel happy to be back."
Post time for the first race Saturday is at Noon with the Derby at 5:35 p.m.