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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Underdog horse Mage wins the 149th annual Kentucky Derby

With the help of veteran jockey Javier Castellano, Mage wins first derby 


By MEGAN JOSEPH — sports@theaggie.org


With $3 million on the line and over 155,000 people in attendance, 20 horses compete in a winner-takes-all situation. On Saturday, May 6, the 149th annual Kentucky Derby horse race continued its historic tradition. Over a century has passed since the first race took place in 1875, making it the longest continuously held sporting event in America and one of the most reputable races in the world. 

Every year, the race takes place on the first Saturday in May, giving the jockey and the horses roughly three weeks from the last qualifying race to prepare and travel to Kentucky. The race is mere minutes long, but the Kentucky Derby wasn’t nicknamed the “most exciting two minutes in sports” for nothing. 

The Kentucky Derby is a grade-one stakes race on a dirt race track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The race sees three-year-old thoroughbred horses coming from all around the world to compete for a prize of $3 million, spread across the top five horses. To qualify for the Kentucky Derby, horses must compete in 35 races around the globe and earn at least 40 points. Only the top four horses are awarded points in these 35 qualifying races, and the 20 horses with the most points earn spots at the starting gate.  

On Saturday, we saw an incredible win by underdog horse Mage, jockey Javier Castellano and trainer Gustavo Delgado. The top five finishing order was: Mage in first, Two Phil’s in second, Angel of Empire in third, Disarm in fourth and Hit Show in fifth. Throughout the race, Two Phil’s kept the lead until Mage came up on the shoulder, turning the last 100 meters of the race into an all-out sprint. Two Phil’s and Angel of Empire were both in the most favored group of horses, so it was no surprise that they finished in 2nd and 3rd. 

Prior to the Derby, Mage had only three starts and one win prompting his odds of 15-1; however, he beat the odds and won the prize. Nobody was more proud and excited for the horse than Castellano, who told NBC that, “He’s a little horse but [has] a big heart.”

One horse, Forte, was the favorite to win but was taken out of the race just hours before the competition. Forte suffered a concerning joint contusion on his right hoof, prompting veterinarians to declare him unfit to race. Forte’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, therefore pulled him from the competition. This came as a shock to fans and fellow jockeys because Forte seemed to be a shoo-in, especially considering all of the horse’s past competitions. Other horses, including Skinner, Practical Move, Lord Miles and Continuar, were also pulled out of the race for a variety of reasons, mainly related to injuries.

Forte’s absence was missed by viewers, but not by his competitors, especially Mage. During the Florida Derby in Gulfstream on April 1, Forte beat Mage with a substantial lead for the majority of the race. Many believed that this was a preview of how the Kentucky Derby would turn out, with Forte holding the lead and winning the race. Others, though, said that Mage still showed potential, demonstrating speed considering his small size.

Following the Kentucky Derby, The Courier-Journal spoke with Forte’s trainer, Pletcher, and asked him what he thought about the results. 

“I think that he would have performed well yesterday. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option,” Pletcher said. He also congratulated Mage.

The Kentucky Derby garners a lot of attention from people all over the world because of the prestigiousness of the event and the ability to earn thousands of dollars. 

This year alone saw enormous crowds and earnings. If a person were to bet $2 on Mage, they would have made $32.42. If a viewer would have placed a $2 exacta bet on Mage and Two Phil’s (the second-place winner), the viewer would have earned $330.44. A $1 trifecta bet on Mage, Two Phil’s and Angel of Empire winning would earn a better $928.36. Lastly, a super trifecta $1 bet (predicting finishes of top 4 horses) would have earned the better $15,643.60. 

Anybody can bet on a horse, even if they are not in attendance. First-year UC Davis student Kaili Raisch placed a $5 bet on horse number 17 (Jace’s Road), who ended up getting second to last. She explained the reason that she bet on Jace’s Road was “because he looked like a strong, tall and fast horse that would have long strides.” Raisch described that over the years, betting has become a lot easier for everyone — whether they are in attendance or not. This more recent change has increased race viewings over the years.

Nonetheless, the desire to attend the event in person is still very prominent, even now that general interest in horse racing has decreased. People still enjoy dressing up and dawning fascinators, or the small, vintage-looking hats that many wear at the derby. 

Raisch even said, “It’s not just a race but also a very big social event.” Between now and next year, the success and excitement demonstrated between jockeys, trainers, horses and the millions of viewers is sure to continue.


Written by: Megan Joseph — sports@theaggie.org