Key Takeaways You Need to Know from a Sensational 2023 Kentucky Derby

Mage Kentucky Derby Churchill Downs horse racing Javier Castellano jockey Two Phil’s Jareth Loveberry Larry Rivelli Sam Herzberg Disarm Steve Asmussen Joel Rosario Derma Sotogake Japan Christophe Lemaire
Mage (center, sky blue and white jockey silks) defeats Two Phil’s (right) and Angel of Empire (left) to win the Kentucky Derby May 6 at Churchill Downs. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the 149th edition of the $3 million, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Hall of Famer Castellano gets his Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

BREAKING THROUGH: Jockey Javier Castellano admitted his lack of Kentucky Derby success had been weighing on him. The Hall of Fame rider had fallen short with 15 mounts as part of an 18-year quest. “Sometimes you feel a little embarrassed when you have been trying so many times and you don’t see the results. And sometimes you go down a little bit,” said Castellano, 45. “But I didn’t give up. I always tried to be positive and tried to find the right horse to participate in one of the biggest races in the world.” His handling of victorious Mage could not have been better. He stayed patient after the colt’s usual slow break from the starting gate and bided his time as he correctly anticipated a strong pace. When it was time to go, Castellano finally had the right horse beneath him.

TEN YEARS LATER: Sam Herzberg, one of Mage’s owners, thought his opportunity to win the Derby might have come and gone when he had to scratch Black Onyx with a sprained ankle 10 years ago. The injury occurred the day before the race. “I don’t have to tell you how depressed you get when something like that happens,” Herzberg said. With a small operation, he questioned whether he would ever reach the Derby. Herzberg quicky bought in when bloodstock agent Ramiro Restrepo sought partners in Mage after going beyond budget for the 2-year-old in training. “I don’t know what to say,” said Herzberg of his reversal of fortune. “It’s just magical.”

MUCH RESPECT: There were many questions about Two Phil’s after he dominated the March 25 Jeff Ruby Steaks by 5 ¼ lengths at Turfway Park. Was the commanding victory merely a sign of how much he relished Turfway’s synthetic surface? How would he fare when he returned to dirt? Well, the son of Hard Spun did everything but win the Derby in running a resolute second for trainer Larry Rivelli and jockey Jareth Loveberry. “Man, he tried so hard and ran his heart out,” said first-time Derby trainer Rivelli. “I’m so proud of this horse and everyone involved. He ran an incredible race.” For an instant, it appeared that Loveberry had made a winning move when they shot through a hole that opened around the final turn. “He proved he is a world-class horse,” Loveberry said.

QUICK TURNAROUND: It represents a significant challenge to ask a still-maturing 3-year-old to run back in the Derby on only three weeks of rest. But that is exactly what happened with Ron Winchell’s Disarm after his solid third-place effort in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland Race Course. And the promising son of Gun Runner handled it extremely well, coming in fourth in the Derby for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Given the circumstances, jockey Joel Rosario was encouraged by the result. “It was a big step for him,” Rosario said. “He responded to everything I asked him to do. It was a good race for him.” Bigger and better things would appear to lie ahead for Disarm.

Derma Sotogake (Eclipse Sportswire)

NOT THIS TIME: Hopes were high that authoritative UAE Derby Presented by Atlantis the Royal winner Derma Sotogake might have the quality to become the first Japan-based horse to bring home the roses. After all, horses from Japan have made inroads around the globe. But Japan must wait another day after Derma Sotogake, its best hope, came in a non-threatening sixth. A poor start and the lack of a closing kick made for a bad combination for jockey Christophe Lemaire. “Gradually, we gained position on the final turn,” Lemaire said. “I was in the best spot to make a move. He stayed on but didn’t have the speed to make it closer late.”

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