Mage wins 149th Kentucky Derby to cap tumultuous week
Mage roared from off the pace to win the 149th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, launching US racing's Triple Crown campaign as two more horse deaths on Saturday cast a pall on proceedings at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Gustavo Delgado and jockey Javier Castellano -- both from Venezuela -- each claimed a first Kentucky Derby win, Mage surging around the final turn and out-dueling Two Phil's down the stretch.
Two Phil's, trained by Larry Rivelli and ridden by Jareth Loveberry, finished second and Angel of Empire, trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Flavien Prat, was third.
Mage, a 16-1 shot who had impressed in running second to Forte in the Florida Derby five weeks ago, was among the beneficiaries when the race was thrown wide open Saturday morning as favorite Forte became the fifth horse scratched from the 1 1/4-mile event.
Now he's poised to challenge for the Triple Crown, with the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore on May 20 to be followed by the Belmont Stakes in New York in June.
"Give me a couple of days at least," Delgado laughed when asked if Mage would be pointed toward the coveted treble.
Mage became the fourth horse to win the Derby off only three prior career starts.
But Castellano, denied in 15 prior Derby attempts, said he never doubted the lightly raced colt could win.
"He did it really well today," Castellano said. "He got a lot of dirt in his face, came from behind horses.
"He's a little horse but with a big heart."
The scintillating run capped a disturbing week at the iconic racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, where seven horses have died in the space of 10 days.
That included two horses on Saturday's race programme -- Chloe's Dream and Freezing Point -- that were euthanized after being taken from the course by horse ambulance after breaking down in races.
Last week, Derby-bound Wild on Ice and Take Charge Briana were euthanized after suffering leg injuries.
Chasing Artie and Parents Pride, both trained by Saffie Joseph, collapsed and died with the cause of death still unknown.
The Board of Stewards announced Thursday that all Joseph-trained horses had been scratched from all races until further notice. That included Derby runner Lord Miles.
Those four deaths prompted a statement of concern from Churchill Downs officials on Wednesday, and the Daily Racing Form then reported that another horse, Code of Kings, flipped over while being unsaddled in the paddock and broke his neck.
- Bruised foot -
The deaths and scratches cast a shadow over a normally festive week that culminated with a 150,000-strong crowd for the Derby.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Forte was scratched Saturday morning with a bruised foot. Practical Move, Continuar and Skinner had already been pulled out.
Forte had shown a slight wobble during training on Thursday. Pletcher had insisted through Friday that the horse would be able to run, but after state veterinarians examined him Saturday he was scratched -- a move that clearly gutted owner Mike Repole.
"You can only be a three-year-old colt on the first Saturday in May one time in your life," Repole said. "I feel bad for the horse."
But horse safety put racing in the spotlight nationwide in 2019, when horse deaths spiked at Santa Anita and the California track was closed for more than three weeks.
Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, issued a statement Saturday saying the measures taken so far by Churchill Downs to protect horses were inadequate.
"The pre-Derby death toll is still mounting," Guillermo said after Chloe's Dream was euthanized. "Although PETA appreciates that the Kentucky state veterinarian exercised caution by scratching the Derby favorite, we called for the closure of the track so stronger protocols could be put in place. Churchill Downs should have listened."