Mage, a light race at 15-1, won the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, using a quick early pace to charge from the back of the pack and pass two fillies down the stretch.
Here are three takeaways from a race day that balanced Mag’s success with two more fatal injuries and the tragedy of a morning line scratched due to injury.
He’s no 80-1 shocker like last year’s winner, Rich Strike. In his previous start in the Florida Derby, he finished a length behind Derby favorite Forte before being scratched on Saturday morning. But Mage is not in the first sentence of many conversations that disable the first jewel of the triple crown. He ran just three times and won just once in his first race at Florida’s Gulfstream Park in January.
“Not much to say about Mage,” NBC’s Mike Trigo said after it was over, summing up the lack of prerace intrigue surrounding the Gustavo Delgado-trained Collicutti.
Fans and pundits alike have been left to celebrate the Mag’s 45-year-old jockey Javier Castellano, who won four straight Eclipse Awards as the sport’s best rider between 2013 and 2016. But never won the derby.
Castellano rode a patient race, refusing to panic as Mage slowly broke away and the pace in front of him ran hot. He kept his horse safe in the middle of the lane, waiting for the right moment to swing him out and shoot the tired leaders. It was a complete performance from one of the game’s greatest men.
“You won’t find a nicer guy in horse racing than Javier Castellano,” said NBC analyst Randy Moss.
It was also a career-defining victory for Delgado (who, like Castellano, is a native of Venezuela). Although he has trained Grade 1 winners, he has never contested a race like this. His previous top earner, Bodexpress, finished 13th in the 2019 Derby.
So it’s another derby for guys we never saw coming. Favorites dominated the race in the 2010s, but those days are gone.
There is no chapter two in Rich Strike’s Triple Crown story, as trainer Eric Reid decided not to bring the upset King to Baltimore last May, instead running the Belmont Stakes where he finished sixth.
Delgado’s son and assistant trainer, Gustavo Delgado Jr., made no guarantees about the May 20 Preakness running immediately after the Derby. “Give me at least two days,” he said.
But on Sunday morning, trainer Gustavo Delgado Sr. and co-owner Ramiro Restrepo said the Preakness was a strong consideration.
“If my boy feels how he feels, we’ll go to Baltimore and crab cakes,” Restrepo said, speaking to reporters at Churchill Downs.
If he’s not traveling, we’re in another heated debate about the Triple Crown calendar, whether it’s too tightly packed to suit modern thoroughbreds running on less than a month’s rest.
If Mage comes to Baltimore, the Preakness will be more interesting, with Derby runner-up Two Fills and third-place finisher Angel Of Empire lining up for another shot and trainer Chad Brown again waiting in the weeds with a talented horse. , Blazing Sevens, which did not run in the Derby. Brown used the same formula to win the Preakness in early voting last year and in 2017 on cloud computing (run by Castellano).
And what about Forte? If his leg injury heals quickly, can trainer Todd Fletcher chase down his first Preakness victory with the scrappy Derby favorite? Fletcher didn’t rule out the possibility.
We haven’t even seen a horse win two of the three Triple Crown races since Justify took all three jewels in 2018. The next couple of weeks will be very exciting as Mage rotates against better competition.
Fatalists realized bad news was coming when floor writers spotted Forte’s owner, Mike Rebol, engaged in a conversation with Kentucky racing officials after the Derby favorite galloped on race morning. Sure enough, moments later, the headline flashed across social media: Forte was out, scratched by state veterinarians, who were concerned about an injury to his right front paw.
Morning Line became the fifth horse favorite from the Derby field between Thursday and Saturday morning, but his late exit was unprecedented – 3-1 favorite I Want Revenge was scratched on the morning of the race in 2009 – a fitting reference. A relentlessly dark run-up.
With two horses, Solis Dream and Freezing Point, suffering fatal injuries in the races on the Derby undercard, the news would only get worse as the day wore on. Their breakdowns brought the number of horse deaths at Churchill Downs to seven in a nine-day span.
The Derby is the horse racing equivalent of Opening Day, a spring festival for which all the sport’s top owners and trainers put their best foot forward for what could be their year. More than the exotic hats worn by patrons, faith defines it.
Not in 2023.
Before the scratches and Saturday’s latest deaths, track officials were scrambling to figure out why five horses, including Derby qualifier Wild on Ice, died in a five-day span. They suspended Chaffee Joseph Jr., who had trained two horses that died suddenly, and scratched his Derby rival, Lord Miles.
All this at a time when casual fans seem more willing than ever whether horse deaths are an acceptable sacrifice to move racing forward.
All these headlines of death, disease and injury continued an unresolved stretch for the most celebrated all-American race. We haven’t seen a “normal” Derby since Justify began his Triple Crown run with a win in 2018. In 2019, Maximum Security crossed the finish line first, but was disqualified by the stewards for swerving into the path of several competitors. In 2020, after the Belmont Stakes, the coronavirus pandemic pushed the Derby to Labor Day weekend. In 2021, the Medina Spirit lost its winning streak due to a doping violation that also led to the suspension of the sport’s most popular trainer, Bob Baffert. In 2022, Rich Strike, another horse not even in the field until he was scratched on Friday morning, won at 80-1 odds.
Mage deserves no less credit for his success than Forte and other potential rivals such as Practical Move and Skinner. Bad luck is a constant in this game. Even the best coaches know that one bad step can unravel their best plans.
But at the end of this tough week at Kentucky, death and disappointment were just as much the story as the pursuit of victory.
148th Preakness Stakes
Pimlico Race Course
Saturday, May 20
Post Time: Around 6:50 PM
TV: Chs. 11, 4