March 4, 2024

Mage wears down Two Phil’s to win Kentucky Derby

Mage with Javier Castellano riding wins the 2023 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs (Photo by Horsephotos.com)
Winners Circle. Mage with Javier Castellano riding wins the 2023 Kentucky Derby (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky Derby Day began Saturday with news of the scratching of the betting favorite Forte, due to a bruised foot. The day ended with Mage, whom Forte had defeated by a length in last month’s Florida Derby (G1), capturing the 149th running of the Run for the Roses while giving Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano his first Derby win in 16 attempts.

“Sometimes you feel embarrassed a little bit when you been trying so many times, and you don’t see the results. And sometimes you go down a little bit. But I didn’t give up,” Castellano said. “I always tried to be positive and tried to find the right horse to participate in one of the biggest races in the world.”

Until Justify won the 2018 Kentucky Derby, and ultimately the Triple Crown, no horse had won the Derby having not raced as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882. Mage is now the second in six years, having debuted on Jan. 28. He’s also only the fourth horse to win the Derby in their fourth lifetime start. The others were Justify, Mage’s broodmare sire Big Brown (2008), and Regret (1915).

A 3 3/4-length winner of his debut at Gulfstream Park going seven furlongs, Mage was then pitched into the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth (G2) against Forte. Hitting the gate at the start and encountering additional trouble, Mage wound up fourth as Forte cruised to an easy win, but it was an effort the relatively inexperienced colt could build upon.

In the Florida Derby, Mage was off even slower, through no fault of anyone but himself. But the chestnut zoomed into contention around the far turn, getting the jump on Forte, who soon followed Mage with a wide rally and ultimately wore him down in the final yards.

Mage was again off tardily in the Kentucky Derby, but encountered few major mishaps in the opening quarter-mile. Although ahead of only three rivals a mile from home, Mage had settled nicely into a ground-saving position by Castellano.

The Derby pace was fast. With Verifying leading and with Kingsbarns bearing down on him, the opening quarter was run in :22.35 and the half-mile in :45.73. Reincarnate was three wide in third, with Two Phil’s and Confidence Game also in close pursuit.

Kingsbarns took over just as Verifying covered six furlongs in 1:10.11, but was a spent force himself midway around the far turn, when Two Phil’s emerged with the lead. Mage’s journey into contention, meanwhile, was steady and sustained. From about the five-eighths pole onward, Mage picked off rivals one by one. Circling rivals around the far turn, Mage entered the stretch galloping strongly on the outside. Collaring Two Phil’s at the eighth pole, Mage drew off late to win by a length.

“When I saw him starting to make his move I felt very confident,” said Gustavo Delgado Jr., assistant to his father Gustavo Delgado. “When Javier started to asking I knew he’d sustain it.”

Two Phil’s, who ran credibly having raced in fairly close attendance to the hot pace, held second by a half-length over the fast-closing Angel of Empire, who was sent off as the 4-1 favorite. It was three lengths back to Disarm, who was followed by Hit Show, Derma Sotogake, Tapit Trice, Raise Cain, Rocket Can, Confidence Game, Sun Thunder, Mandarin Hero, Reincarnate, Kingsbarns, King Russell, Verifying, Jace’s Road, and Cyclone Mischief.

Owned in partnership by Delgado’s OMGA Investments, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing, and CMNWLTH, Mage covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.57 over a fast track and paid $32.42 as a 15-1 chance.

Delgado and Castellano are both natives of Venezuela, a nation that claimed 1971 Kentucky Derby winner Canonero II as a national hero. Castellano, a 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, is a four-time Eclipse Award winner best known for being the regular rider of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and the Preakness (G1) winners Bernardini (2006) and Cloud Computing (2017).

“I felt so confident going into this race, because my dad was the trainer. And he was telling me step by step what he was doing with the horse. It was a masterpiece,” Delgado Jr. said.

Bred in Kentucky by Grandview Equine, Mage has sold twice at auction. He brought $235,000 as a Keeneland September yearling and $290,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic juvenile.

By juvenile champion and 2018 Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic, Mage was produced by the stakes-winning Puca, a daughter of 2018 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown. Puca is a half-sister to the Grade 1-winning turf performer Finnegans Wake.

In a Derby week filled with disappointment for the connections of Forte, Practical Move, Skinner, Continuar, and Lord Miles, all of whom were scratched for varying reasons, Mage produced nothing but enchantment for his.