UNITED STATES NEWS

Mystik Dan wins 150th Kentucky Derby by a nose in the closest 3-horse photo finish since 1947

May 3, 2024, 9:55 PM | Updated: May 4, 2024, 6:40 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The 150th Kentucky Derby produced one of the most dramatic finishes in its storied history — three noses at the wire.

Mystik Dan desperately fought to hang on with two challengers coming to him in the closing strides. He did, too, after a delay of several minutes while the closest three-horse photo finish since 1947 was sorted out.

That year, Jet Pilot won by a head over Phalanx, who was another head in front of Faultless.

This one was much tighter.

Mystik Dan, an Sierra Leone was the most expensive horse in the race at $2.3 million.

Long shots Track Phantom and Just Steel led the field through the early going, with 3-1 favorite Fierceness racing three-wide just off the leaders.

At the top of the stretch, everything changed.

Track Phantom drifted off the rail, opening a hole that Hernandez squeezed Mystik Dan through, and the bay colt suddenly found another gear. He quickly opened up a daylight advantage on the field.

“When he shot through that spot, he was able to cut the corner and I asked him to go for it,” Hernandez said. “He shot off and I’m like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got a big chance to win the Kentucky Derby.’”

To Mystik Dan’s outside, Sierra Leone and Forever Young took up the chase in the middle of the track.

As Mystik Dan sped along the rail, Sierra Leone lugged in and bumped Forever Young three times in the stretch, but jockey Ryusei Sakai didn’t claim foul.

Mystik Dan got so close to the rail that Hernandez’s boot struck it.

“But I think we can buy another pair of boots,” he said.

The winner’s share of the record $5 million purse was $3.1 million, with the jockey and trainer typically earning 10% each.

“Just a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant jockey and ride,” McPeek said. “Brian is one of the most underrated jockeys, but not anymore, right?”

Sierra Leone, the second choice at 9-2 odds, and Forever Young from Japan came up just short at the wire in front of 156,710 at Churchill Downs, the largest crowd since 2018.

“You get beat a nose in the Kentucky Derby, it’s a tough one,” said Chad Brown, trainer of Sierra Leone. “But I’m so proud of the horse.”

It was just the 10th Kentucky Derby decided by a nose — the closest margin in horse racing — and the first since Grindstone edged Cavonnier to wear the garland of red roses in 1996.

The crowd waited several minutes in the heat and humidity as the result was reviewed by the stewards and declared official.

“The longest few minutes of my life,” Hernandez said, after he and Mystik Dan walked in circles while the stunning result was settled. “To see your number flash up to win the Derby, I don’t think it will sink in for a while.”

Fierceness finished 15th in the field of 20 3-year-olds. Owner Mike Repole is 0 for 8 in the derby. He had the favorite in 2011 with Uncle Mo, who was scratched the day before the race with an illness. Last year, Forte was scratched the morning of the race as the favorite with a bruised foot.

Mystik Dan ran 1 1/4 miles over a fast track in 2:03.34 and paid $39.22, $16.32 and $10.

Hernandez and trainer Kenny McPeek had teamed for a wire-to-wire win in the Kentucky Oaks for fillies on Friday with Thorpedo Anna. McPeek is the first trainer to sweep both races since Ben Jones in 1952.

McPeek’s only other victory in a Triple Crown race was also a shocker: 70-1 Sarava won the 2002 Belmont Stakes — the biggest upset in that race’s history. The colt spoiled the Triple Crown bid of War Emblem.

The winning owners are cousins Lance and Brent Gasaway and Daniel Hamby III, all from Arkansas. They bred Mystik Dan.

“We’ve done it with what I call working-class horse,” McPeek said, explaining the colt’s sire and dam weren’t big names.

Sharilyn Gasaway, Brent’s wife, said, “It is surreal for sure. We feel like we’re just ordinary people and we’ve got an amazing horse.”

Sierra Leone returned $6.54 and $4.64. Forever Young was another nose back in third and paid $5.58 to show.

Catching Freedom was fourth, followed by T O Password of Japan, Resilience, Stronghold, Honor Marie and Endlessly. Dornoch was 10th and then came Track Phantom, West Saratoga, Domestic Product, Epic Ride, Fierceness, Society Man, Just Steel, Grand Mo the First, Catalytic and Just a Touch.

___

AP horse racing: https://apnews.com/hub/horse-racing

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Mystik Dan wins 150th Kentucky Derby by a nose in the closest 3-horse photo finish since 1947