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Mage wins star-crossed Kentucky Derby amid 7th death

Kentucky Derby Horse Racing
Posted at 7:31 PM, May 06, 2023

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two more horses died in the hours before 15-1 shot Mage won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, capping a rocky stretch in which seven in all died and casting a shadow over the 149th edition of the world's most famous race.

Mage had only one victory in three previous races before holding off 9-1 shot Two Phil's in the stretch. The colt, who didn't race as a 2-year-old, ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.57 under Javier Castellano.

The 45-year-old Hall of Fame jockey, who hasn't been as in-demand lately, snapped an 0-for-15 skid in the Derby. He and trainer Gustavo Delgado are from Venezuela.

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

Mage joined Canonero II as Derby winners with Venezuelan ties. Canonero II won the Derby and Preakness in 1971.

“Turning for home, he had a lot of heart,” Castellano said. “He's a little horse with a big heart.”

Forte, the early favorite, was scratched in the morning with a bruised foot, one of five horses that dropped out in the run-up to the race. That left 18 3-year-olds vying to wear the garland of red roses.

Two Phil's was second and 4-1 favorite Angel of Empire was third in front of a crowd of 150,335 on a warm and partly cloudy day at Churchill Downs.

Mage paid $32.42, $14.58 and $9.08.

Two Phil's returned $10.44 and $6.52 at 9-1 odds. Angel of Empire paid $4.70 to show.

Earlier in the day, Chloe’s Dream, a 3-year-old gelding, and Freezing Point, a 3-year-old colt, were injured in their races and later euthanized, becoming the sixth and seventh horses to have died at the track in recent days.

The string of horse deaths was on the mind of some Derby-goers on a mostly cloudy and warm day.

"It’s concerning, and I hope they’re quickly trying the best they can to correct whatever’s going on,” said Michael Freeze, who along with his friend dressed up as jockeys. “They need to do whatever is best for the horses, and the sport in general.”

Chloe's Dream got hurt in the second race Saturday. The horse was taken off in an equine ambulance with a right front knee injury and was euthanized, trainer Jeff Hiles confirmed to The Associated Press.

“He just took a bad step out there,” Hiles said. "They could do the same thing running in the field as they could 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 and was euthanized, trainer Joe Lejzerowicz told the AP. He said Fort Bragg, who finished third, came over and slammed into Freezing Point during the race.

“He just got bumped in the backstretch,” Lejzerowicz said. “He never took a bad step or bobble. He had a big heart.”

New antidoping and medication rules enforced by a central governing body of the sport are scheduled to take effect May 22.

“There’s something going on,” said Pat Murtha, who was attending his first Derby. “They need to find out, and set some rules and regulations to protect these animals.”

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 a post-race drug test. The horse was disqualified and Baffert was punished.

In 2019, over 30 horse deaths occurred at California's Santa Anita racetrack, rattling the industry and leading to 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 re-opened his stable last month.

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

Four horses were scratched — Practical Move, Lord Miles, Continuar and Skinner — in recent days. Practical Move and Skinner had fevers, while Continuar wasn't in peak 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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AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves and AP National Writer Claire Galofaro contributed to this report.