Lessons Learned: Mage upsets 149th Kentucky Derby

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Mage and Javier Castellano fly to the finish in Saturday’s 149th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Coady Photography.

Ramiro Restrepo and Gustavo Delgado Jr. combed the sales grounds before last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale of 2-year-olds and settled on two prospects they thought could work and fit their budget.

Hip 592, a colt from the first crop of champion Good Magic, went through the ring first and about a half-hour before Hip 621, a filly from the first crop of multiple Grade 1 winner City Of Light. Restrepo, a longtime South Florida field representative for Fasig-Tipton and a bloodstock agent, with encouragement of Delgado, wound up with the first with a larger-than-planned $290,000 bid.

“We ended up spending $290,000 and in the real world that’s a lot of money. In horse racing it’s a respectable number but by no means a lot of money,” Restrepo said. “We ended up getting the horse and since we went over budget, we put together an ownership group.”

Restrepo admitted that he went to work right away to find partners on the colt, the second foal out of the stakes-winning Big Brown mare Puca. OGMA Investments, the partnership run by Delgado and his father, former leading Venezuelan trainer Gustavo Delgado, were already in. Sam Herzberg’s Sterling Racing and the microshare partnership group CMNWLTH jumped in, too.

They’re all glad for it now, after the chestnut colt Mage rolled through the stretch to win Saturday’s 149th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby in front of 150,335 fans and a worldwide audience in just his fourth start. Ridden by Javier Castellano, Mage won by a length over Two Phil’s with 4-1 favorite Angel Of Empire third in the field of 18 reduced by a record five scratches since entries were drawn Monday.

“The four of us were able to cover the four bases of this horse,” Restrepo said. “We brought a guy from California, from Tennessee, Sam from South Florida, myself from Miami.”

And that group teamed with the elder Delgado, who trained three Triple Crown winners in his native Venezuela with a couple Grade 1 victories to his name in the U.S. and the Venezuelan native and Hall of Fame jockey Castellano.

“The ownership group is four different groups from four different backgrounds, all different age ranges, nationalities,” Restrepo said. “It’s one heck of a melting pot that came through for this horse. The amount of celebration that’s going to go on I can’t describe it going forward.”

Mage, who won the 10-furlong classic in 2:01.57 as the 15-1 eighth choice in the field, helped kick off that celebration when he became just the third unraced 2-year-old to win the Derby. He joined 1882 winner Apollo and 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify in that group. Mage also became the fourth Derby winner with only three starts before winning the run for the roses, joining Justify, his dam’s sire Big Brown in 2008 and the first of three fillies to win the race, Regret in 1915.

Castellano won his first Derby in his 16th attempt. The best finish from his previous 15 rides was a third aboard Audible in 2018 and Castellano said he used a graphic used during NBC’s pre-race broadcast as a little motivation to land the victory.

“When I was in the jockey’s room and NBC put ‘0‑for-15, Javier Castellano,’ in that moment, it give me so much inspiration myself,” Castellano said. “And I think, ‘this is the year. I’m going to break the year, and I’m going to win the race.’ I feel a lot of confidence in myself. I have been describing the race. I have been dreaming that way for many years. Only needed a little opportunity to get it done, and I’m glad I did it.”

Castellano rode Mage in the colt’s second start, a fourth behind champion Forte and fellow Derby starters Rocket Can and Cyclone Mischief, in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes in early March at Gulfstream Park. Luis Saez, who rode Tapit Trice in the Kentucky Derby, rode Mage to his runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in his most recent start.

Castellano was expected to ride Gotham Stakes winner Raise Cain in the Derby, but took the mount aboard Mage April 24. He went into the Kentucky Derby, which lost morning-line favorite Forte with a foot bruise Saturday morning, with multiple plans and needed some quick thinking when Mage missed the break.

Mage came away from the gate a step slow and wound up 15th past the finish post the first time as Blue Grass Stakes runner-up Verifying, Louisiana Derby winner Kingsbarns and Sham Stakes winner Reincarnate battled through a quick opening quarter-mile in :22.35. Mage lost a spot and Castellano found himself in 16th heading into the backstretch after Verifying ripped through the half in a sharp :45.73 – not quite Songandaprayer’s record :44.86 in 2001 but taxing nonetheless.

Verifying, Kingsbarns and Reincarnate continued through 6 furlongs in 1:10.11 but came under pressure around the far turn. Jeff Ruby Steaks winner Two Phil’s and jockey Jareth Loveberry made the first run, coming through on the inside to overtake brief leader Kingsbarns and turning for home in front.

Castellano had inched Mage into sixth around the far turn. Restrepo and the other representatives of his ownership team saw the fractions and knew they’d taken their toll on the leaders. Castellano knew, too, after picking off tiring foes several paths off the fence.

“I knew I can win the race at the three-eighths pole,” Castellano said. “Just let him roll a little by little, little by little, because I knew when you ask, you push a button, the horse is going to give me everything he has. The way he had been trained, the way the horse is, I saw every single work, the way he galloped.”

Mage ranged up to Two Phil’s at the eighth pole, took the lead inside the final furlong and edged away inside the final sixteenth. Angel Of Empire, the Arkansas Derby winner and 8-1 morning-line third choice who wound up favored at 4-1, made a run through the stretch under Flavien Prat to finish a half-length behind Two Phil’s in third. Disarm finished fourth with Hit Show fifth, Japanese invader Derma Sotogake sixth and Tapit Trice seventh.

Mage, who broke his maiden on the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup Day card going 7 furlongs, collected $1.86 million for the Derby victory to boost his bankroll to $2,107,200.

“My dad, with the success of Canonero II, as you know, Venezuelan connections that won the Derby [in 1971], he grew up in a generation where everybody was talking about it,” the younger Delgado said. “And he always felt like he could accomplish that. I remember when I was a kid, because when he was successful down in Venezuela, he would always tell me, ‘One day, we should go to the States and win one of those races.’ ”