Like magic, Mage takes Kentucky Derby

Two Phil’s may have been best on this day, but it was Mage who wore the roses after Saturday’s 149th running of the Kentucky Derby.

A swift early pace took the starch out of the horses in the early vanguard and allowed the lightly raced Mage, making just his fourth career start, to unleash his closing kick to best effect. The result was a one-length victory in 2:01.57 for 1 ¼ miles on a fast main track for Mage’s second win in four starts.

It was a troubled Derby week – and Derby day – but the big race itself went off cleanly. Five Derby horses scratched between Thursday and this morning, with the last of those – morning line favorite Forte, who was scratched by the state vet Saturday morning – the most consequential.

Also scratching were Practical Move, the Santa Anita Derby winner who was 10-1 on the morning line; 20-1 shot Skinner; Wood Memorial winner Lord Miles, 30-1 on the morning line; and Japanese hopeful Continuar (50-1). Those five scratches permitted three also-eligibles – Cyclone Mischief, Mandarin Hero, and King Russell – to draw in and left a field of 18.

While cautious horsemen accounted for the scratches of Skinner, Practical Move, and Continuar, it was racing’s often-criticized regulatory apparatus that accounted for the other two. Lord Miles was scratched by order of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards, who had grown concerned after two of trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr.’s other horses had collapsed and died following races earlier this week. And it was the state vet who knocked Forte out of the big race, concerned about a foot bruise.


All had to be aware of the scrutiny they and their sport are under – and not just because the Kentucky Derby draws massive national and even international attention. Five horses had died while racing or working at Churchill in the week prior to Derby day; two more horses were euthanized after undercard races Saturday, and a third was vanned off.

But, as shows do, this show went on. For those focused on the Derby, one question on bettors’ and horsemen’s minds approaching Saturday’s Derby involved the early pace. Would there be much of it? How might it impact the outcome of the race?

The answers turned out to be “yes” and “plenty.”

Mage galloping at Churchill Downs prior to the Kentucky Derby. Photo Coady Photography.

Verifying, Kingsbarns and Reincarnate tore through opening fractions of :22.35, :45.73 and 1:10.11 for the first three calls. Two Phil’s and jockey Jareth Loveberry were just in behind the leaders and covered up.

Mage, meanwhile, had just three horses in the rearview as the field turned up the backstretch. But as the field made its way up the backside, jockey Javier Castellano deftly maneuvered his mount through traffic and into contention.

Loveberry astutely moved Two Phil’s between horses on the turn and then down inside the tiring leader, Kingsbarns. By the time the field straightened for home after a mile in 1:36.06, Two Phil’s had a two-length advantage.

“In the turn, the hole opened up and I said I can’t wait,” Loveberry recalled. “He proved he is a world-class horse today.”

But the early pace had taken a toll, and Mage, in the center of the track, was revving up his run. Even farther outside, post time favorite Angel of Empire, the Arkansas Derby winner, was mounting his rally, too.

In the lane, Two Phil’s was stubborn, but Mage had too much magic, powering home to win. Two Phil’s held second, a half-length ahead of the onrushing Angel of Empire, who earned the show spot.

“I was asking for the wire, asking for the wire,” said Gustavo Delgado, Jr., his dad’s assistant in training Mage. “Once he made the lead, it was how we had planned the race to happen. Everything went according to plan. This is the dream I have, a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a note: ‘We’re going to win the Derby next year.’”

Mage, a son of Good Magic out of the Big Brown mare Puca, won for the second time in four outings, and the winner’s share pushed his career bankroll to more than $2.1 million. He is trained by Gustavo Delgado for an ownership group that includes OGMA Investments, LLC; Ramiro Restrepo; Sterling Racing LLC; and CMNWLTH.

Bred in Kentucky by Grandview Equine, Mage sold for $290,000 as a two-year-old in training at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale in Timonium last May.

The Derby win was jockey Castellano’s first from 16 Derby mounts. It was also Delgado’s first from three starters in the run for the roses.

Mage paid $32.42 to win. With Two Phil’s nearly 10-1, the exacta returned $330.44 on a two-dollar wager.

Two Phil’s, trained by Larry Rivelli, became just the second horse to win a race at Colonial Downs as a two-year-old and run in the Kentucky Derby the following year. Both finished second in the Derby, Two Phil’s today and Victory Gallop in 1998.