Mage has won the Kentucky Derby, at a race meeting marred by 7 horse deaths : NPR

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Javier Castellano celebrates after riding Mage to win the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 6, 2023, in Louisville, Ky.

Charlie Riedel/AP

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Charlie Riedel/AP

Javier Castellano celebrates after riding Mage to win the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 6, 2023, in Louisville, Ky.

Charlie Riedel/AP

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After seven deaths raised questions about the future of horse racing, Mage scored a surprise victory in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, capping a heartbreaking day that included two more deaths earlier the 149th edition of the most famous race in the world.

Mage, a 15-1 shot, had only one win in his career, and gave little indication that he could win against 17 rivals in a race that is not kind to the inexperienced.

Still, he ran a gutsy stretch, overtook Two Phil’s to his inside and won by a length. Mage, who did not run as a 2-year-old, ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.57.

Mage joined Justify (2018), Big Brown (2008) and Regret (2015) as Derby winners with just three previous starts.

“He proved today that it doesn’t matter,” assistant trainer and co-owner Gustavo Delgado Jr. said.

The colt was in the skilled hands of Javier Castellano, a Hall of Fame jockey who has not been in much demand lately. The 45-year-old Castellano snapped an 0-for-15 skid in the Derby.

“I never quit,” Castellano said. “I always try to do the right thing. It took me a while to get there. I finally got it.”

Castellano and trainer Gustavo Delgado are from Venezuela. Mage joined Canonero II as a Derby winner with Venezuelan ties. Canonero II won the Derby and Preakness in 1971.

Entering the backstretch, Mage was only three horses ahead. Castellano and Mage started to pick up the competition and in the far turn they started their run.

“He turned to the house, he had a lot of heart,” Castellano said. “He’s a little horse with a big heart.”

Two Phil took the lead at the top of the stretch. Mage swung to the outside and took aim at the leader. Mage passed him on the eighth pole and went on to win.

“Everything went according to plan,” Delgado Jr. said. “This is the dream I have, a year and a half ago, I wrote a note: ‘We will win the Derby next year'”.

Forte, the early favorite, was scratched in the morning with a bruised leg, one of five horses that went down in the run-up to the race.

Mage paid $32.42, $14.58 and $9.08. The colt earned $1,860,000 for the biggest win of his short career.

Two Phil returned $10.44 and $6.52.

“Man, he tried so hard and trained his heart out,” said Larry Rivelli, who trains Two Phil’s.

Angel of Empire, the 4-1 favorite, was another half-length back in third in front of a crowd of 150,335 on a warm, partly cloudy day at Churchill Downs. He paid $4.70 to show.

Earlier in the day, Chloe’s Dream, a 3-year-old filly, and Freezing Point, a 3-year-old colt, were euthanized after being injured in their races, becoming the sixth and seventh horses to die in -course in recent days.

“It’s a very difficult subject to touch on,” said Ramiro Restrepo, part owner of Mage and a blood storage agent. “I’m sure there will be some investigations into the reason behind this, and hopefully it will provide a few more answers.”

The series of horse deaths was on the mind of some Derby-goers.

“It is a concern, and I hope that they quickly try their best to correct everything that is happening,” said Michael Freeze, who together with his friend dressed as jockeys. “They need to do whatever is best for the horses, and the sport in general.”

Chloe’s Dream injured her right front knee, trainer Jeff Hiles told The Associated Press.

“He just took a bad step there,” Hiles said. “They can do the same thing running on the field as they can on the track. So it’s very unfortunate. That’s what we deal with.”

Freezing Point suffered a left ankle injury in the Pat Day Mile, trainer Joe Lejzerowicz told the AP.

“He just hit it in the backstretch,” Lejzerowicz said. “He never took a wrong step or a bobble. He had a big heart.”

New anti-doping and medication rules enforced by the sport’s central governing body are scheduled to come into force on 22 May.

“All I can say is that we do our best to take care of our horses. We treat them better than we treat our children. And we have full confidence in the health of our horse,” said Restrepo. “We’ve been training here for two weeks, and he’s actually been thriving on this track.”

The deaths included Derby contender Wild On Ice. Two of the horses were trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. He was suspended indefinitely from the track, although investigators have yet to determine a cause for the deaths of his horses.

A relieved Tim Yakteen, who trained Reincarnate to a 13th-place finish, said, “The most important thing is that the horse came out of it OK.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a two-time Triple Crown winner, is nearing the end of a two-year ban issued by Churchill Downs Inc. One of his horses, Medina Spirit, crossed the finish line first in the 2021 Derby and failed. drug test after the race. The horse was disqualified and Baffert was punished.

In 2019, more than 30 horse deaths occurred at the Santa Anita racetrack in California, upsetting the industry and prompting safety reforms. Kentucky Derby winning trainer Rick Dutrow had his license revoked in 2011 for 10 years by New York officials. Regulators found syringes loaded with unauthorized medication in a desk in his barn. Dutrow served his sentence and reopened his stable last month.

Four horses have been scratched — Practical Move, Lord Miles, Continuar and Skinner — in the last few days. Practical Move and Skinner had fever, while Continuar was not in the best condition, according to his Japanese trainer. Lord Miles was Joseph’s Derby horse.

Disarm was fourth, followed by Hit Show, Japan-based Derma Sotogake, Tapit Trice and Raise Cain, Rocket Can, Confidence Game, Sun Thunder, Japan’s Mandarin Hero, Reincarnate, Kingsbarns, King Russell, Verifying, Jace’s Road and Cyclone Mischief.

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