Herbie Reed has been fishing, and the catch was plentiful. The 75-year-old pulled in about 30 crappie from a nearby honey hole, a continuation of his family’s recent run of good fortune. It is late afternoon, and he has poured himself a Woodford Reserve on the rocks and sits down at his dining room table with his shirt unbuttoned to his belly, ready to explain how he arrived at this impossibly blissful moment in time.
“I came up by myself,” he starts.
Unwanted and uneducated, Herbert Ray Reed says he walked out of an Appalachian hollow as a child in the 1950s and never went back. His mother had died when he was 5 years old, and the family structure unraveled after that. Hitching a predawn ride on a cattle truck at 9 years old led him away from dark times in Pecks Creek Hollow in rural Powell County to this town of Versailles, where he showed up unannounced at his aunt’s house. “My God, honey,” he recalls her saying to him. “How did you get here?”
She was one of about a dozen people who took him in at varying points in a chaotic childhood. After settling in this bluegrass region of Kentucky, Herbie lied about his age to get a job riding racehorses. He was 14. He wasn’t a feral child, but in many ways Reed was raised by horses. They gave him an occupation, an outlet, an opportunity to be somebody. Horses became a generational family business—a source of revenue and pride and profound heartache, as well.
Eleven days ago, one horse raised the Reed name to the highest level of the equine game. Rich Strike, trained by Herbie’s son, Eric, won the Kentucky Derby in breathtaking fashion—with a spectacular late charge down the stretch to collar favored Epicenter before the wire at outrageous odds of 80–1. It was the second-biggest upset in the 148-year history of America’s oldest continuous sporting event.
Eric had Herbie join him at the post-race press conference, even though he had no direct involvement in training Rich Strike. Along with owner Rick Dawson and jockey Sonny Leon, they were such big-race novices that they had to be told to sit down for the interview. Then, …….