When Nebraska native Jennifer Schuckman agreed to help at the Kentucky Derby, little did she know that it would have historic implications.
Schuckman, a 2005 graduate of Norfolk High, was serving as an outrider to help a Derby entrant reach the starting gate. As fate would have it, she was escorting Rich Strike to the post.
The colt, a late entry into the race after another horse scratched, went on to win at huge odds. Rich Strike became the second-longest shot to win the Run for the Roses, going off at 80-1 and paying $163.60.
“It was pretty special, to say the least,” she said. “The whole day was pretty incredible.”
Schuckman has had that love of horses for many years. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Nebraska and her master’s in veterinary medicine from Iowa State.
She worked at an equine hospital in Kentucky for seven years before earning her doctorate from Texas Chiropractic in Houston.
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Schuckman now lives in Texas and works as a chiropractor for both humans and animals – including horses.
She has served as an outrider at the Breeders Cup and for races held at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. This was the first year she had been invited to help at the Derby.
Schuckman said she immediately realized that Rich Strike, wearing the unlikely No. 21, was high spirited – and perhaps a little bit mean.
“I turned around and he bit me,” she said. “But just the way he was acting, I thought he might have a pretty good shot.”
Schuckman said Rich Strike didn’t seem bothered by all of the Derby pageantry, which included a crowd of almost 150,000 and a marching band there to play “My Old Kentucky Home” before the race.
“Horses can get nervous over things like that,” she said. “But he was taking it all in stride.”
As the horses broke from the starting gate, Schuckman – riding a horse named Silver -- watched from the racetrack fringe.
“Rich Strike was toward the back of the pack when I saw him go by and had a lot of traffic in front of him,” she said. “But somehow he just kept moving forward.”
Jockey Sonny Leon did a masterful job of guiding the colt through that traffic, slipping through along the rail in deep stretch to post the shocking victory.
Schuckman also was part of the pony crew that helped Rich Strike to the winner’s circle, though his temperament hadn’t improved. The winner bit outrider Greg Blasi and his horse as they tried to settle the 3-year-old down.
Riding in front of the grandstand, Schuckman got her first look at the toteboard and the big prices that resulted from the long shot coming home.
“All I could say was ‘Wow!’” she said. “I hadn’t been able to see the odds before the race, so I was surprised.”
She also was somewhat disappointed later when she found out her husband had not placed a wager on the horse. While working at the track, Schuckman was prohibited from making a bet.
“For nostalgia purposes, he usually bets $2 on the horses I take to the post,” she said. “He didn’t think this one had a chance, but he kind of ate those words.”
Schuckman, who is back working in Texas, said she’ll remember her part in Rich Strike’s victory. She’s been invited back to be an outrider at next year’s Derby.
“It was a neat experience,” she said. “And I can always say I got bit by the Derby winner.”