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“My heart was going to explode with so much joy”

Sonny León gave impressions after his historic achievement in the Kentucky Derby

Sonny León, the Venezuelan jockey who last Saturday won the 148th Kentucky Derby with Rich Strike, enjoys a victory that seemed, in his own words, "almost impossible."

"My heart was going to explode with so much joy," says León, 32, in a telephone interview with AFP from Kentucky, a few days after participating for the first time in this equestrian classic.

He had, in the stands, a special motivation: his one-year-old and two-month-old daughter was there.

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"It wasn't just winning the Kentucky Derby, but having my daughter by my side, among 145.000 people. It was my lucky charm, because it was an almost unwinnable race and I won it," she says.

One day before the race, León did not know if he would be at the starting line. Rich Strike, calling 80-1, was included on Friday for the Ethereal Road elimination.

«If there was a scracht (withdrawal), the horse could enter. There was this tension all week: that if it will come in, that if it will not come in... I decided to leave it to God in the hands », he recounts.

At 9 am Friday, while having breakfast with his family, he received a call from coach Eric Reed.

Inherited "Dream"

León grew up in Quedrada de Apa, a small village in the state of Aragua (northern Venezuela). There he inherited from his father, who was fond of horse riding, the love for horses.

«My dad wanted to be a jockey, my grandfather did not leave him because the profession is risky and he got something in his head: when he has my son, if he wants, let him be a jockey (…), that he make the dream come true that I did not I was able to," he says.

"At 16 I went to Ciudad Bolívar (Bolivar state, south), there was a school there, the Rancho Alegre school, and I started," he continues, recalling a stage in which he met one of his mentors: José Antonio García, old horseman known as 'El Dandy' in the mundo hípico Venezuelan. "He taught me. 'Put your hands down, put your heels down, do this like this.'

Already as a professional he ran at La Rinconada, the main racetrack in Venezuela, and since 2015 he lives in the United States. 

 "Without looking back"

He has won more than 750 races, according to Equibase, but he had never had a triumph of such importance as the Kentucky Derby, the first round of the Triple Crown of American horse racing. Preakness Stakes (Baltimore, Maryland), on May 21, and Belmont Stakes (New York), on June 11, are still on the schedule. 


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