A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
Welcome to 2023 Triple Crown Prospect Profiles – updated after the first jewel of the Triple Crown from the previous title of Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshots – where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail.
This week, of course, we’ll take a closer look at $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Mage and assess his chances in the Preakness Stakes (Note: Mage's connections confirmed May 12 that he is on target for the Preakness) or Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, depending upon which race his connections choose next.
Something the Kentucky Derby has taught us this century is that the winner can come from any barn. A talented racehorse in the hands of a terrific horseman can accomplish great things – think Funny Cide (2003) for trainer Barclay Tagg, Smarty Jones (2004) with John Servis, Giacomo (2005) for John Shirreffs, Animal Kingdom (2011) with Graham Motion, and California Chrome (2014) under the care of Art Sherman to name just a few. There was also Rich Strike’s 80.80-1 upset for little-known trainer Eric Reed in 2022.
Add Mage in the hands of accomplished Venezuelan Triple Crown-winning trainer Gustavo Delgado to that list after his one-length win in the Kentucky Derby May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Recent years have also taught racing fans that the “Curse of Apollo” is about as relevant as a VHS player. Up until Triple Crown winner Justify in 2018, no horse had won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882. Now, two have accomplished the feat in five years. It’s a reminder that the sport is changing, so with that out of the way let’s take a closer look at Mage.
Racing Résumé: Mage made his career debut Jan. 28, 2023 a winning one by leading from start to finish to post a 3 ¾-length victory in a seven-eighths of a mile sprint at Gulfstream Park. His connections thought enough of the Good Magic colt and that win to test him next on the Kentucky Derby trail.
After a troubled start and a wide trip, Mage finished fourth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, but there was reason for optimism. Mage was stretching out around two turns for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, and he improved his Equibase Speed Figure and essentially paired his Beyer Speed Figure, showing that he was capable of the handling challenges in both class and distance.
His next start in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa April 1 was even better. Mage again got off to a sluggish start but he seized command in the stretch with a sweeping rally, only to be overtaken late by champion Forte, who was on his way to a fifth consecutive win.
Mage was 6 ¾ lengths behind Forte in the Fountain of Youth but made up 5 ¾ lengths of that margin in the Florida Derby, finishing only a length behind the division leader. Mage had stretched out from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles and again showed improvement, raising his Equibase Speed Figure to a career-best 102 and his Beyer Speed Figure to a new best 94.
Given his racing inexperience compared with some of his Kentucky Derby opponents, trainer Gustavo Delgado worked Mage three-quarters of a mile with a strong quarter-mile gallop out for fitness two times before the Kentucky Derby. The tactics differed from most of the other trainers but helped provide additional foundation for a colt with only three races under his belt, and it paid off handsomely as he stretched out to 1 ¼ miles.
Mage got away to a slow start for the third straight race in the Kentucky Derby but Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano did not panic and allowed him to settle while saving a bit of ground around the first turn. Castellano remained calm when in traffic nearing the final turn and urged Mage to accelerate when running room opened up for him.
From there, it was clear Mage was a serious contender with a shot to win as he responded willingly and swept past horses approaching the stretch, where he was about 7-to-8 paths wide as the field charged into the stretch. Mage and Castellano reeled in Two Phil’s and powered past inside the final sixteenth of a mile to score a career-defining victory.
“I took my time. I didn't rush him,” Castellano said. “Just to let him go break out of the gate and save all the ground he basically could in the first turn. … Even the backside, when Tapit Trice, I felt on the inside and tried to squeeze a little bit in between horses. I didn't panic.”
The reason Mage had odds of 15.21-1 in the Kentucky Derby was fairly simple: he had won only a maiden race in three previous starts. But he was clearly a racehorse on the right trajectory, getting better with each start and good enough to come within a length of defeating division leader Forte in his final start before the Derby.
The late defections of Forte and Runhappy Santa Anita Derby winner Practical Move along with three others certainly did not hurt, but Mage earned his classic victory with a strong finish after probably running an extra sixteenth of a mile on the final turn. It was an impressive win from a fast-improving 3-year-old.
“Sometimes you have to follow your intuitions and that’s what I did with this horse. Sometimes it pays out and sometimes it doesn’t. It really did today,” assistant trainer and co-owner Gustavo Delgado Jr. said after the win. “When I saw him starting to make his move, I felt very confident. When Javier [Castellano] started to asking I knew he’d sustain it.”
Speed Figures: Mage earned a new career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure for the Kentucky Derby win, an 11-point jump. He also improved his best Equibase Speed Figure two points to a 104 and his Brisnet rating two points to a 103. The Good Magic colt needed to improve in his fourth start to win the Kentucky Derby and he did just that.
Now the question is, can he duplicate that effort or improve again on two weeks rest in the Preakness Stakes? We will find out soon enough.
Running Style: While Mage won his debut leading from start to finish, he has since demonstrated a habit of breaking slowly from the starting gate. That very likely helped him somewhat in the Kentucky Derby given the swift pace of :22.35 for the opening quarter-mile and :45.73 for the first half-mile.
Recent history had shown that tactical speed was a valuable weapon in the Kentucky Derby, but the pace in the first jewel of the Triple Crown essentially eliminated from contention every contender close to the front with the exception of Two Phil’s. The Preakness Stakes, like the Derby, has tended to favor horses with tactical speed as eight of the last 10 winners were within three lengths of the pace after the first quarter-mile with Rombauer in 2021 and Exaggerator in 2016 the lone exceptions. The Belmont Stakes, should Mage move on with Triple Crown aspirations intact, can be difficult for pure closers because the sweeping turns on a 1 ½-mile track lead to significant ground loss.
Connections: Ramiro Restrepo and his friend, Gustavo Delgado Jr., purchased Mage for $290,000 at the 2022 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale in Timonium, Md. Restrepo, who works for Fasig-Tipton Co. as its South Florida market representative, discussed going well over budget for the Good Magic colt in this interview on America’s Best Racing April 11.
The condensed version is that trainer Gustavo Delgado Sr. set a $100,000 limit, Restrepo and Delgado Jr. (assistant to his father) really liked the colt and knew they would need to spend more and agreed to set a $200,000 ceiling, then Delgado Jr. urged Restrepo to push higher until the duo landed him with the final price of $290,000.
“The consignor is coming up to me to say, ‘Congratulations.’ Other friends of yours are there and they are saying, ‘Great get,’” Restrepo told Tom Pedulla. “In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Well, we’ve got to get to work. We need some strong partners here because I just signed for a ticket that I’m going to have to go under the floor boards, under the mattress to get.”
Restrepo reached out to Sam Herzberg of Sterling Racing, who Restrepo has known for more than 10 years, and friends Chase Chamberlin and Brian Doxtator of CMNWLTH, which sells micro-shares in promising horses, and Mage’s partnership was born. Molly Rollins of BloodHorse put together a nice feature on the partnership, their different backgrounds, and how everything came together.
Gustavo Delgado Sr. swept the Triple Crown races three times in his native Venezuela and moved to the U.S. for good about eight years ago to pursue victories in the biggest races in North America, inspired by 1971 Derby and Preakness winner Canonero II, who had Venezuelan connections. A Maracaibo, Venezuela native, Delgado earned his first U.S. stakes win with Grand Bili in the Grade 3 Carry Back Stakes in July 2015. Mage is his third Grade 1 winner, joining Bodexpress and Paola Queen, and was his third starter in the Kentucky Derby.
Jockey Javier Castellano also is a native of Maracaibo, Venezuela. He built a Hall of Fame career in the United States, winning more than 5,600 races since taking out his license in the states in 1997 while amassing four Eclipse Awards as outstanding jockey and 12 wins in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Castellano has also won the Preakness twice with Bernardini (2006) and Cloud Computing (2017), but his 0-for-15 record in the Kentucky Derby prior to this year’s race did not sit well with him.
“When I was in the jockey’s room and NBC put ‘0‑for-15 Javier Castellano,’ in that moment, it gave me so much inspiration in myself,” Castellano said. “I think this is the year. … I'm going to win the race.
“Sometimes you feel embarrassed a little bit when you been trying so many times, and you don't see the results. And sometimes you go down a little bit. But I didn't give up.”
Pedigree Notes: Mage is from the first crop of 2017 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and champion 2-year-old male Good Magic, the runner-up in 2018 to Triple Crown winner Justify in the Kentucky Derby. Good Magic won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes before his second in the Derby in 2018, and later that year he won the Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes.
With only one crop of runners age 3, it’s far too early to make any judgments about Good Magic as a sire but you won’t find a much better update than the addition of a Kentucky Derby winner. Other standouts from Good Magic’s first crop include Grade 1 winner Blazing Sevens and graded stakes winners Reincarnate, Curly Jack, Dubyuhnell, and Vegas Magic. All in all, the first group of Good Magic runners looks like a big success.
Mage’s dam (mother) is Grade 2-placed stakes winner Puca, by 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Bog Brown. Puca finished second in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle Stakes in 2015 and was a stakes winner at a mile and 70 yards. She also is a half-sibling (same dam, different sire) to Grade 1-winning turf router Finnegans Wake, a course record-setter at 1 ½ miles.
Mage has already proved capable at 1 1/4 miles iin the Derby, so the 1 3/16-mile Preakness should be within his scope. The 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes is a difficult test of stamina for every 3-year-old.
Triple Crown Potential: Expect Mage to run well in the Preakness May 20. He is lightly raced and does not seem to have been pushed especially hard to qualify for the Kentucky Derby as is often the case with 3-year-olds. It sure feels like Mage took his connections to Louisville on his own, rather than vice-versa. Along that line of thinking, closers in major stakes races are able to conserve energy early in races and make one sustained late run. A pacesetter or press-the-pace type might have to fight really hard to keep up with or set the pace and then be fully extended late to hold off the rallying challengers. It’s anecdotal, but it does seem like Mage’s running style does not tax a racehorse quite as much.
That said, equaling or bettering a career-best race on two weeks rest is a tall order. It has happened less frequently over the last decade as trainers have accepted best practices of more space between races. However, eight 3-year-olds in the last 21 years have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and two, including the aforementioned Justify, went on to sweep the Triple Crown.
Justify’s racing schedule best matches that of Mage as both came into the Kentucky Derby with only three starts, but Justify was a much different type of racehorse who pressed or set the pace in his three Triple Crown wins.
The Triple Crown has only been swept 13 times in U.S. racing history; it’s extraordinarily difficult to accomplish. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. For now, Mage is more than capable of equaling his Derby win on two weeks rest and overcoming his closing running style in the Preakness, but there will be quite a few people lining up to bet against him at Pimlico.