He considered leaving the horse business after tragedy struck. Now this trainer just won the Kentucky Derby

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Nearly six years ago, Eric Reed almost called it quits from the horse training business.

A fire engulfed one of the barns at his Lexington, Kentucky, equine center, in the middle of a December night, killing 23 thoroughbred horses and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

โ€œWhen we drove up on that that night, I told my wife, I said, โ€˜weโ€™ve probably lost everything,โ€™ โ€ Reed recounted this week. โ€œThe next morning, when we saw the devastation โ€ฆ I just thought of all the years and all the stuff we had done to get this beautiful farm and to have this happen, that something might be telling me itโ€™s the end of the line.โ€

That was 2016.

Reed didnโ€™t give up, and with friends โ€“ and sometimes strangers โ€“ who showed up to help, he continued training. โ€œI just decided, I wasnโ€™t going to let it take me out.โ€

It paid off: Reed is now a Kentucky Derby winner.

Rich Strike, the horse he trains, entered as the biggest long shot in the race (80-1 odds) and surged forward in the home stretch to cross the finish line first with a 2:02.61 time.

The victory was all the more stunning because Rich Strike wasnโ€™t even in the field until Friday, when derby officials announced another horse pulled out. Reed told reporters he brought his team down a few days before the race, on the possibility the horse might get a chance to run, to begin preparing โ€œagainst all odds.โ€

Jockey Sonny Leon hugs trainer Eric Reed after Rich Strike's victory.

โ€œNobody thought we could get in,โ€ he said. When the horse came in first place, Reed almost passed out. Rich Strike is his first winning horse in the derby.

โ€œEverybody would love to win the Derby. I always would, but I never thought I would be here, ever,โ€ Reed said.

Venezuelan jockey Sonny Leon, in his first Kentucky Derby, rode Rich Strike to the surprise victory. Rich Strike is owned by RED TR-Racing, LLC, according to the derbyโ€™s website.

The next leg of the coveted Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, will be run at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 21.

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