Mage, a 3-year-old chestnut colt, won the 149th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, CNN reported on Saturday, to prance away with the first leg of US thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.
The horse, trained by Gustavo Delgado, out-hoofed Two Phil’s, who ended up in second place, followed by Angel of Empire, finishing as the second runner-up, before a massive crowd of over 150,000 diehard derby lovers.
The pullout of the hot-favourite Forte from the race earlier in the day paved the way for Mage’s win.
Forte was denied a chance to run after a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission veterinarian spotted an injury in the right front foot of the horse, Churchill Downs said in a statement.
“Forte had been listed as the 3-1 morning line favourite to win the first leg of the sport’s Triple Crown,” CNN reported and added Forte was the fifth horse to be taken off the race. This brought the number of horses down to 18. For the first time since 1936 that five horses have been scratched from the Derby.
“I never give up, I always try hard,” jockey Javier Castellano said. “It took me a little while to get there, to finally get it.” The victory was the first at the Kentucky Derby for Castellano in 16 attempts.
Mage, who finished second in the Florida Derby last month, finished the 1-1/4-mile race in two minutes and 1.57 seconds.
The chestnut colt, who went off at 15-1 odds, sped up on the last stretch to take the lead and cross the finish line ahead of Two Phil’s, who was second, and Angel of Empire, one of the favourites, who finished in third place.
The victory was the first Kentucky Derby win for Venezuelan trainer Gustavo Delgado and Venezuelan Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, who won the Run for the Roses after 16 attempts.
“I never give up, I always try hard, took a lot to get here I finally get it,” said Castellano. “I’m blessed. Thank you for the opportunity to run this horse, that has a lot of heart.”
An emotional Delgado added: “When I arrived to the US my first dream was go to Kentucky. I was sure that the horse was very good.”
Saturday’s Derby was also the culmination of a week stained by the death of seven horses, which led to the suspension of trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. Two horses, Chloe’s Dream and Freezing Point, had to be euthanized hours before Saturday’s race.
“It is with the utmost sadness that we report these tragic fatal injuries. Churchill Downs is unwavering in our commitment to the health and well-being of equine safety,” Churchill Downs said.
Animal rights group PETA said that, given the number of deaths, they had urged Churchill Downs to close the track in order to implement stronger safety protocols.
“Churchill Downs is a killing field,” PETA’s senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo added in a separate statement.
The Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, will be run on May 20 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, followed by the Belmont Stakes three weeks later on June 10.