Mage rallied to a victory Saturday at the scratch-filled 149th Kentucky Derby, bringing trainer Gustavo Delgado and jockey Javier Castellano their first garland of roses.
Capping a sad and tumultuous week at famed Churchill Downs, Mage — a grandson of 2007 Preakness champ Curlin and 2008 Derby winner Big Brown — stayed close to the lead throughout before finding a second wind down the stretch at Churchill Downs.
Mage had raised eyebrows with an impressive second-place finish at the Florida Derby five weeks ago, in a race won by Forte, who was scratched ahead of Saturday's running.
“He’s [Mage] got a lot of heart," Castellano said moments they crossing the finish line. "He’s a little horse but [has] a big heart.”
Delgado, who, like Castellano, is a native of Venezuela, could barely speak after his horse won.
“When I come to the United States, my first dream [was] go to the Kentucky Derby!” Delgado said as a member of his entourage joyously waved a Venezuelan flag behind him.
Two Phil's took the lead shortly after the far turn and appeared to be in winning position as the crowded field turned for home.
That's when Mage hit the accelerator, surged from the middle of the track to overtake Two Phil's and win by a length.
"When he started making his move I felt really confident," said assistant trainer Gustavo Delgado Jr., Delgado’s son. "When Javier started to ask him, I knew he would sustain that move."
Mage went off at 15-1, the eighth most popular pick of bettors in the field of 18. A $2 win bet returned a $32.42 payoff.
If Mage seeks the Triple Crown, his next race will be in Baltimore, where the 148th running of the Preakness is set for May 20 at Pimlico Race Course.
The Belmont Stakes, the final jewel of horse racing's holy trinity, is set for June 10, just outside New York City.
The Derby went off under a cloud Saturday at Churchill Downs, as seven horses have died there in the past week, including Derby hopeful Wild On Ice.
In Saturday's second race, 3-year-old Chloe’s Dream suffered a right knee injury and was euthanized, trainer Jeff Hiles told The Associated Press. Then, in Race 8, Freezing Point suffered a left ankle injury and was put down, trainer Joe Lejzerowicz told the AP.
The deaths led to the indefinite suspension of trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. in what Churchill Downs Inc. called the “highly unusual sudden deaths” of two of his horses.
Joseph-trained Lord Miles had been scheduled to run in the Derby but was scratched because of the suspension.
The deaths renewed concerns about the sport's safety record and treatment of horses.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a long-time critic of horse racing, said this week that thoroughbreds "don't consent" to their careers as racers and are "forced to sprint — often under the threat of whips and even illegal electric-shocking devices — at speeds so fast that they frequently sustain injuries and even hemorrhage from the lungs."
Hours before the race, morning-line favorite Forte was scratched because of a bruised right foot. Forte was the fifth horse forced to withdraw late from the race.
There hadn't been so many Derby scratches since 1936, when five entrants pulled out just before the race.