May 23, 2024

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Kentucky Derby 2024: Eyes on ferocious early favorite, Sierra Leone

Kentucky Derby 2024: Eyes on ferocious early favorite, Sierra Leone

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The 150th Kentucky Derby has produced one of the most… Dramatic endings in its storied history – three noses on the wire.

Mystik Dan struggled hard to hold on with two challengers getting to him in the final steps. He also did so after a delay of several minutes while the closest three-horse portrait since 1947 was completed.

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

This one was more compact.

Sierra Leone with jockey Tyler Gafaglione (2), Forever Young with jockey Ryusei Sakai and Mystik Dan with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., cross the finish line at Churchill Downs during the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby, Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Louisville, Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Brian Hernandez Jr. rides Mystic Dan, right, and gallops to the finish line to win the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Brian Hernandez Jr. rides Mystic Dan, right, and gallops to the finish line to win the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Mystic Dan, n 18-1 shots on goal Sierra Leone are close behind, with another Forever Young team in third place on Saturday. Sierra Leone He was the most expensive horse in the race at $2.3 million.

Longshots Track Phantom and Just Steel led the field through the early start, with the 3-1 favorite Fierceness racing three meters clear of the leaders.

And 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. The daylight advantage of the stadium soon opened.

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“When he shot at that point, he was able to cut the corner and I told him to shoot it,” Hernandez said. “He shot up and I was like, ‘Man, I have a great chance to win the Kentucky Derby.’”

Outside of Mystik Dan, Sierra Leone and Forever Young took over the chase in the middle of the track.

As Mystic Dan sped along the rail, Sierra Leone pulled him down and bumped Forever Young three times in the stretch, but jockey Ryusei Sakai would not claim the foul.

Mystic Dan got so close to the rail that Hernandez’s shoe hit him.

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

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

“Just a wonderful, wonderful knight,” McPeek said. “Brian is one of the most underrated knights, but not anymore, right?”

Sierra Leone, the second choice at 9-2 odds, and Forever Young of Japan, went down to the wire in front of 156,710 spectators at Churchill Downs, the largest crowd since 2018.

“You get beaten in the Kentucky Derby, it’s a tough one,” Sierra Leone coach Chad Brown said. “But I’m very proud of the horse.”

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

The audience waited several minutes in the heat and humidity as the hosts reviewed and officially announced the result.

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“The longest few minutes of my life,” Hernandez said, after he and Mystic Dan walked in circles while the stunning score was decided. “To see your number go up to win the Derby, I don’t think it will take hold for a while.”

Fierce placed 15th in a 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 due to illness. Last year, Forte was scratched on race morning as the favorite with a bruised foot.

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

Hernandez and trainer Kenny McPeek combined for a straight-line 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 Triple Crown victory was also a shocker: The 70-1 Sarava won the 2002 Belmont Stakes — the biggest upset in the history of that race. The colt spoiled the Triple Crown display of the war emblem.

The winning owners are cousins ​​Lance and Brent Gassaway and Daniel Hamby III, all of Arkansas. They raised Mystic Dan.

“We did it with what I call a working-class horse,” McPeek said, explaining that the colt’s sire and dam are not big names.

“It’s definitely surreal. We feel like we’re just regular people with an amazing horse,” said Charlene Gasway, Brent’s wife.

Sierra Leone returned $6.54 and $4.64. Forever Young was the other nose back in third place and paid $5.58 for the show.

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Catching Freedom came in fourth place, followed by TO Password of Japan, Resilience, Stronghold, Honor Marie, and Endless. Dornoch placed tenth, followed by Track Phantom, West Saratoga, Domestic Product, Epic Ride, Fierceness, Society Man, Just Steel, Grand Mo the First, Catalytic, and Just a Touch.

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