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'Win machine,' Sonny Leon's success began in Northeast Ohio, then the Kentucky Derby

In 2016, Sonny Leon competed in his first race at JACK Thistledown and won. Six years later, Leon was crowned the Kentucky Derby champion riding Rich Strike.

NORTH RANDALL, Ohio — Before Rich Strike and Sonny Leon shocked the world and were crowned Kentucky Derby champions, Leon was riding frequently at JACK Thistledown in North Randall.

In 2016, Leon competed in his first race at JACK Thistledown and won. Since then, Leon has raced in 90 events and won six times.

"He's been just a win machine," horse race announcer Matt Hook said. "He's an excellent rider, a master technician, elite strength and an amazing athlete."

Hook told 3News Leon has been a proven winner on the Ohio circuit for years.

Rich Strike and Leon were massive underdogs at the Kentucky Derby, but rallied late to be crowned champions. Hook called Leon "fearless" for his ride during the final stretch of the first leg of the Triple Crown.

"Hard work and perseverance pays off," Sonny Leon's agent Jeff Perrin said.

An aerial camera shot on NBC was able to capture how much space Rich Strike and Sonny Leon made up during the race. Hook has been announcing horse races in Northeast Ohio since 2005, but says watching Leon win at Churchill Downs was astonishing.

"It was jaw dropping, I mean, I was like on the floor shocked of how aggressive and fearless that ride was," Hook said. "One of the greatest rides I've ever seen."

Hook believes Leon will receive offers to ride at bigger tracks across the country after his win in Louisville. 

Jeff Perrin, who serves as Leon's agent told 3News Friday evening that he will race at Churchill Downs on Saturday and Sunday.

Although Rich Strike and Leon will not be competing in the Preakness, Hook is excited to watch them compete in the Belmont Stakes.

Perrin says the amount of time in between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes is perfect for Rich Strike. 

"It was a win for the little guy," Perrin said.

It's unclear when Leon could be racing again in Northeast Ohio. According to Perrin, this stretch has been mentally and physically challenging for Leon.

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