In a race with plenty of drama in its leadup, it was only fitting that the 149th Kentucky Derby delivered a captivating two minutes of must-see TV on Saturday.

When early favorite Forte was scratched from the Grade 1 race hours before post time for the first leg of U.S. Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown with a bruised front foot, it opened the door for the 18 horses who went postward in the “Run for the Roses.”

In the end, it was 15-1 Mage who delivered a magical stretch run at Churchill Downs to take all the spoils in the 1 ¼-mile classic, and first race in the prestigious U.S. Triple Crown.

The lightly-raced chestnut colt, who came into the $3 million Derby with a win and a second from three starts, was making his first start outside of Florida, specifically, Gulfstream Park.

He arrived at the race off a second-place finish to Forte in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1.

On a warm, partly cloudy day, with hall of fame rider Javier Castellano in the saddle, Mage, under the tutelage of multi stakes-winning trainer Gustavo Delgado, stepped up on the big stage in a wide-open affair.

Owned by OGMA Investments, LLC, Ramiro Restripo, Sterling Racing LLC and CMNWLTH, the Kentucky-bred son of Good Magic didn’t need to rely on sleight of hand to put his name in the history books.

Instead, it was a combination of old-fashioned hard work, patience and a perfect ride that sealed victory.

Mage, 15th at the quarter-pole, was 16th after a half, and had plenty of ground to make up on the frontrunners. Castellano navigated the 3-year-old into sixth at the mile mark, as the duo continued to gobble up ground on the leaders.

Second and gaining at the stretch call, Mage powered by Two Phil’s to earn a one-length victory in a time of 2:01.57 over a fast main track. Two Phil’s finished a half-length ahead of mutuel choice Angel of Empire to secure the runner-up spot.

It was the first Derby triumph for Castellano, who only had a third to show from his first 15 rides.

“He’s a little horse with a big heart,” said Castellano. “It was the dream trip for any jockey. I never gave up and tried hard. It took me a while to get there but I’m very blessed to be here.”

It was the smallest field since 15 started in the 2020 Derby. This year, there were 23 horses entered, which included three also-eligibles, but the race saw five horses scratched from the field.

Bred by Grandview Equine, Mage paid $32.42 to win.

Mage will now have a chance to continue the chase for the elusive Triple Crown at the Preakness Stakes in Maryland on May 20. The third leg is at the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 10.

Note: A pair of horses died in races at Churchill Downs on Saturday. Chloe’s Dream, a 3-year-old gelding, and Freezing Point, a 3-year-old colt, were injured in their respective races on the Derby undercard, making them the sixth and seventh horses to have perished at Churchill in recent days.

Feature image: ©John Sommers II/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News