Vet Alan Dorton and Lindsy Reed Add to Rich Strike Fairy Tale

There are so many human interest stories and little known incidents that make up the incredible tale of Rich Strike. I have told several of them, but this one adds new depth to the story. Whether the colt wins Saturday’s Travers or not, what has been can never be erased from even the most unlikely yet cherished chapters of the Kentucky Derby.~ Steve Haskin

Vet Alan Dorton and Lindsy Reed Add to Rich Strike Fairy Tale

By Steve Haskin


If you don’t believe in the Derby gods then you surely must believe it was a higher source of divine intervention that guided Rich Strike to his improbable 80-1 victory in the Kentucky Derby. As the son of Keen Ice approaches Saturday’s Travers Stakes the main question is whether this amazing story will continue, or like Mine That Bird conclude with the Kentucky Derby. It didn’t matter much with Mine The Bird because it still made for a terrific movie, as it was the journey to Churchill Downs and victory on racing’s greatest stage that drove the story.

The same can certainly be said for Rich Strike, but in many ways his story is even more compelling because it combined more elements of the human spirit, especially the incredible bond that has held the Reed family together through countless tragedies. This was the real story that made the Derby so amazing and it took Rich Strike and his jaw-dropping run through the entire Derby field to bring it to public consciousness as if it was destined to be told.

Although it came as a shock to everyone outside the colt’s circle, it certainly wasn’t to those who knew the behind-the-scenes story. One of those in that circle is the Reeds’ veterinarian, Alan Dorton, who has become so close to the family that trainer Eric Reed’s daughter Lindsy, who has worked with Rich Strike and knows him as well as anyone, thinks of him as her “second dad.”

“When I first met him I thought, ‘This guy is pretty cool,’” Lindsy said. “He was funny and always made everyone feel relaxed and gave them confidence. It was all about the horses and he always did what was in their best interest. As time went on we became very close and a great friendship developed. I gained so much respect and love for him. He became my go-to person and eventually a father figure to me. Whenever I was in a bad mood he would say, ‘Here comes grumpy pants.’”

Dorton’s interest in horses at age 19 did not begin in typical fashion. It happened when he chased a girl he liked into a horse barn. She rode Western pleasure horses and he eventually began taking an interest in horses. After attending Morehead State University he transferred to the University of Kentucky and began working with horses part-time from the ground up. After graduating he decided he wanted to go into horse management so he returned to school to take equine science and management courses while again working part-time with horses to help pay for another semester. He eventually got a job at the duPont family’s Pillar Stud on weekends working first with the broodmares and then the stallions. He then got a job at Gainesway Farm where he learned about stallions the hard way.

One day Cannonade, the 1974 Kentucky Derby winner, grabbed his middle finger and ran off with Dorton hanging on for dear life. He knew if he didn’t keep running with the horse he would have lost his finger. Cannonade finally let go, with Dorton separating the last two joints of his finger. Stallion manager Marion Gross took a look at it and calmly snapped it back in place.

Dorton’s interest eventually turned to veterinary medicine and after becoming a veterinarian his first big job was working for Ken Ramsey at his farm in Nicholasville, Kentucky just outside of Lexington. At the time there were 83 mares on the farm and that eventually grew to around 300. After the tragic barn fire, likely caused by lightning, at the Reed family’s Mercury Equine Center outside Lexington in December, 2017 that killed 23 horses and nearly wiped out their entire operation it was Ramsey who sent Eric and his wife and assistant Kay 22 horses to help them get back on their feet. For Eric the fire was a nightmare from which he was unable to wake up. He told Kay, “We’ve lost everything. “ In addition to the horses they lost all their tack and supplies along with valuable records, trophies, and racing memorabilia. It pretty much destroyed their past existence that had taken so many years to build up.

When Dorton went there to take care of the horses Ramsey gave them he got to know the family well and he has been a close friend, as well their veterinarian, ever since.

The Reeds built back their operation, but the tragedies were far from over. In the summer of 2020 Eric Reed’s two main assistants, behind Kay, James Wellman and Hollywood Sweeney, who had been with him for over 25 years, both died of cancer several months apart. Lindsy would like to believe it was James and Hollywood who helped clear a path for Rich Strike, one on the inside and one on the outside, as he made his epic charge through the Derby field.

They had suffered though the ordeal of the fire, but were unable to rejoice in the victory of a lifetime. “The last thing they would remember was the fire, watching the barn burn down and the bodies being taken out,” Lindsy said.

Shortly after losing James and Hollywood, the Reeds’ daughter Jessica (the second oldest of four children) and her 2-year-old son Raylin were visiting Jessica’s husband at the garage where he worked when there was a tragic accident that killed Raylin. Her husband still hasn’t recovered.

“The father has been dealing with serious psychological issues since.” Dorton said.

After having to suffer through that terrible tragedy Kay lost both her parents a short time later. But through all the heartbreak the family held together and kept forging ahead looking for that one big horse.

According to Dorton it was Kay (whose mother and father were horse trainers and whose great uncle Charlie Kurtsinger rode War Admiral to victory in the 1936 Triple Crown) who was the rock.

“I’m lucky I’m one of the few vets that she hasn’t physically chased out of the barn,” he said jokingly.

If I may venture into the ethereal, it was now time for the Derby gods to get to work.

On September 21, 2021, Eric put a claim in on a horse at Churchill Downs, but there were seven or eight claims in the box and he lost the shake. So he decided to claim another horse later on who had run once on the grass at Ellis Park, finishing 10th, beaten 14 lengths, but this race was on the dirt. This time, with the horse having run so poorly in his debut, his was the only claim and he was able to take over the training of a chestnut colt named Rich Strike at a cost of $30,000. He won that day by a staggering 17 ¼ lengths, but it wasn’t until he worked at Ellis Park a short time later that Reed felt he might have stumbled onto something big.

“Eric told me at that time, ‘Keep an eye on this colt, he may be my Derby horse,” Dorton recalled. “When I first saw him he was just a big old gangly 2-year-old who would fall over his own feet.”

Although it would take a while for Dorton to become a believer, Lindsy soon saw something that gave her hope. “In December, when he turned in a bullet workout at Churchill Downs I thought, ‘Maybe dad’s right. He might be good after all,’” she said. “The stride he had and the ground he covered was mind-blowing.”

Lindsy, who is a top hunter jumper, began taking care of Rich Strike, grooming him, bandaging him, and giving him his medicines, and would until he left for Churchill Downs to prepare for a possible start in the Derby.

“He was quite full of himself and could be a handful,” she said. “He would rear up and was just playful and kind of goofy like a young prankster growing up. If you left him alone he was fine, but if you bothered him he’d eat you alive.”

Rich Strike was sent to Fair Grounds at the end of 2021, and although he was 46-1, it still was very disappointing when he finished a well-beaten fifth in the Gun Runner Stakes.

“I was surprised to see him run out of gas,” Dorton said. “When he got back to Mercury I pulled blood on him and he was anemic as all get out. It turned out he had stomach ulcers.”

Dorton began treating them and Rich Strike finished a solid third in the Leonatus Stakes coming from eighth and a fast-closing fourth, beaten only three lengths after rallying from 11th, in the John Battaglia Memorial, both over Turfway Park’s synthetic surface. The ulcers cleared up by the time of the rich Jeff Ruby Steaks and when Dorton saw the move Rich Strike made, closing from 11th to finish third at 26-1, he thought, “This horse actually could win the Derby if he gets in or at least surprise a lot of people. If he had another eighth of a mile I believe he would have won that race.”

But Rich Strike still had that mischievous streak in him. The colt liked to play with his water bucket and a month before the Derby, as he had done before, he cut his nose open on the bucket and Dorton had to sew it up. “Here it is a month before the Derby and I’m sewing his nose up,” Dorton said. “I used pink stitches and told people on Facebook to keep an eye out for those pink stitches because they might be at Churchill Downs. We did blood work on him before the Derby and it came back great. I told Eric ‘We’re in good shape.’ That’s when everyone started feeling he could win if he got in.

With several horses still ahead of him on the points list there was nothing left to do but wait and hope for a last-minute miracle. Kay kept calling Lindsy to find out what was happening and the question everyone kept asking her was, “Any word? Any word?”  Finally, there was word. After the late scratch of the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Ethereal Road the day before the race, the first miracle came true. Rich Strike was in the Derby, breaking from the far outside post.

Lindsy finally got to tell everyone, “Well boys he’s in the Derby.” She called Dorton and said, “We got in; cross your fingers.”

The details of how Rich Strike managed to overcome all odds to get in the Derby at the 11th hour can be read in my May 8 recap of the race.

Dorton was unable to attend the Derby because of work and didn’t get home until 5 o’clock. “My wife Jean was sick in bed and I didn’t want to disturb her, so I watched the race in the basement on my office desk. She came down when she heard me yelling. I must have gotten a hundred phone calls and texts immediately after the race. I don’t remember much with all the screaming, yelling, and crying. Everything was so crazy.”

But then came the most special call of them all. It was Lindsy, who was driving back home to Mercury the following morning. “Are you at home?” she asked. “”Of course not, but Jean is,” Dorton replied. “Good,” Lindsy said, “because I have something for her.” Dorton said he would let her know Lindsy would be stopping by even though she would have to make a 35 mile detour.

Lindsy brought Jean six roses from the victory garland. “Can you imagine her going that far out of her way to bring her roses,” Dorton said. “Jean and I were both in tears.”

In an unconventional move, it was decided to pass the Preakness and wait for the Belmont Stakes, feeling the two week interval was too short.  But Rich Strike did no running in the Belmont and plodded home in sixth, beaten over 13 lengths. Was the fairy tale over?

“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Lindsy said. “We feel this was a learning experience. He’s a pretty studdish colt and he got all excited being near that filly (Nest). He got so worked up he basically lost the race in the paddock and the post parade. He’s gotten a lot more professional and is no longer a clown. And he’s gained at least a hundred pounds since the Belmont. The last month he’s been all business. When I walk in his stall he knows I’m going to do something and he’s like, ‘OK, let’s get it over with.’

“I know the Travers is going to be tough, but the way he’s doing and how well he’s been working, they’re going to have to run really hard when the big red Phoenix comes charging at them.”

One of them who should come charging is Arkansas Derby and Haskell Invitational winner Cyberknife, who Dorton delivered at Ramsey Farm, attended to when he was a baby, and watched go off to the sale. In his own way he helped “create” the colt, doing all of Ramsey’s reproductive work, checking the mare, telling them when to breed her, and monitoring the pregnancy right up until delivery. “What an exacta that would be,” he said.

No matter what happens in the Travers or the rest of Rich Strike’s career the movie script has already been written. He can perform no greater miracle than the one that shocked the world on May 7, 2022.

“We had a lot of people watching over us,” Lindsy said. “It was as if it was meant to be. It was like, ‘You’ve been through so much and lost so much maybe a miracle can come your way’. God has mysterious ways of working. He gave us “Richie” and it was up to us to put the pieces of the puzzle together. A little bit of faith can move mountains…and it did.”


Photos courtesy of the Lexington Herald Leader and Alan Dorton


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