Lexington cancer survivor beats all odds in Kentucky Derby

ByDavid M. Conte

Jun 7, 2022

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — May 7 was the day Rich Strike struck gold and beat all odds of winning the Kentucky Derby.

He wasn’t the only one at Churchill Downs with a chip on his shoulder.

Lexington photographer Mike Cyrus says he wants to get his shot more than the horse and jockey want to win.

“I’m all about weddings,” Cyrus says. “Weddings are key. I love them. I would shoot a wedding seven days a week.”

When the first Saturday in May arrives, he adjusts his concentration. Cyrus shot seven Derbys. Every year we remember the weather, the crowds, the twin arrows and the winning horse. Cyrus is pretty much in the right place at the right time.

“I want this photo,” he said. “I’m going to get vaccinated. I won’t fail. Cancer wasn’t going to stop me.”

Cyrus recalls getting the call from her doctor in August 2020.

“You have cancer,” he recalls. “It’s in your stomach. And it’s all around the lining of your stomach and it’s very serious.”

Five months before the 2021 Derby, he beat cancer. He had his whole stomach removed. He still had a few chemo treatments, which would overlap with the Derby.

“I can’t tell you the start of the race,” he said of Derby Day in 2021. “I can’t tell you my thought. I can’t tell you the emotion. I don’t I can’t remember. Even though I was in the fog, and I didn’t go an hour without throwing up.”

He still got pictures of the photo-finish. He says he had done better in the past, but his focus was crystal clear.

“When someone says you have cancer and you might not live, the next time you come back, that’s serious,” Cyrus said. “And you do it and you take it, you don’t take anything for granted. You take it for all it is.”

Now cancer-free in 2022 and approaching Churchill Downs for the 148th race, he teamed up with fellow photographer Dr Michael Huang.

“Dr. Michael Huang said don’t mess it up,” Cyrus said with a chuckle. “It was his inspirational speech. He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t ruin it. “”

“He’s just one of the greatest guys, let alone photographers, and I knew he was going to be successful,” Huang said. “So I had no problem giving it up to him because I knew it was going to be perfect.”

Little did Cyrus know he would be standing on the same renowned track this year to get the perfect shot, from a three-year-old long-shot colt, that would go on to shock the world.

“Rich Strike was the one nobody would ever think of, it was 80 to 1 odds or 90 to 1 odds, crazy odds,” Cyrus said. “I had similar odds and came back and beat that.”

A tough fight like cancer, or defying the odds at the Kentucky Derby, can seem like an unbeatable battle. Mike, however, saw a quaint and picturesque ending in more ways than one.

“There was so much adversity ahead of him,” Cyrus said of Rich Strike. “There were so many things to keep him from reaching his goal. The same thing, I look at him and I see the same thing. I had so much adversity, so much to go through, but yet, I I won in the end. And that’s all that matters is that you win in the end.”