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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Mage won the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on a day when the prerace favorite was scratched and two horses on the undercard were euthanized, bringing the death total to seven.

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Mage, who was a 16-1 choice at post time, became only the third horse to prevail at the Kentucky Derby without winning as a 2-year-old. The others were Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. It was the first victory for jockey Javier Castellano, who had been 0-for-15 at the Kentucky Derby.

Two Phil’s finished second and post time favorite Angel of Empire was third.

Mage finished the 1 1/4 mile course at Churchill Downs in 2:01.57, earning his second career victory. Mage was draped with a blanket of 554 red roses to signify the win in the annual Run for the Roses. A crowd of 150,335 fans watched the race on a warm, partly cloudy day at the track, The Associated Press reported.

“I never give up,” Castellano, 45, of Venezuela, said after the race. “I always try hard to do the right thing. It took me a little while to get there. I finally got it.”

Mage joined Canonero II as Kentucky Derby winners with ties to Venezuela, according to the AP. Canonero II won the Derby and Preakness in 1971.

“Turning for home, he had a lot of heart,” Castellano said. “He’s a little horse with a big heart.”

Mage will now have the chance to become the 14th winner of the Triple Crown, last won by Justify in 2018. The next leg of horse racing’s triple crown is the Preakness, which will be run at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 20. The third race, the Belmont Stakes, will be contested on June 10 at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

Mage finished a length behind Forte in the Florida Derby last month.

After prerace favorite Forte was scratched early Saturday, Angel of Empire and Tapit Trice became the Derby favorites before post time, The Athletic reported.

Angel of Empire, who went off at 4-1 odds, won the Arkansas Derby by 4¼ lengths at Oaklawn Park on April 1. The colt rallied from sixth place at the top of the stretch to win the Grade 1 race.

Tapit Trice, who was a 9-2 favorite at post time, had won his last four starts, including the Tampa Bay Derby in March, and edged Verifying at the Blue Grass Stakes in April at Keeneland, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. The gray horse is the son of Tapit, who finished ninth at the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

Forte’s late scratch trimmed the field to 18 horses, The Washington Post l reported. According to ESPN, it was the smallest Derby field since the 2020 race had 15 entries. That race was moved from its traditional first Saturday in May to September that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kentucky Derby 2023: Early favorite Forte scratched hours before race

Other horses scratched earlier this week were Practical Move and Skinner, who were dropped from the field due to running elevated temperatures, according to ESPN. Continuar also was a prerace scratch, along with Lord Miles.

It was the first time a Derby favorite was scratched on race day since 2009, when I Want Revenge was pulled from the event with a bad ankle, according to The Athletic. That year, 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird won the race.

It was also the first time since 1936 that five horses had been scratched from the race, according to the Post. Fourteen horses ran that year in the race, which was won by Bold Venture.

Two more horses euthanized at Churchill Downs; death total at 7 before Kentucky Derby

Thirteen Kentucky Derby races have been run with less than the allotted 20 horses since 2000, according to the newspaper.

Forte owner Mike Repole said the decision to scratch was made by Kentucky Horse Racing Commission veterinarian Nick Smith because of concerns about the horse’s bruised right front foot, the Courier Journal reported.

Forte was trying to become the third horse to win the Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after Street Sense (2007) and Nyquist (2016). Forte had won six of his seven career starts. His fifth consecutive win came at the Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream Park, The Athletic reported.

Kentucky Derby: Wild On Ice euthanized after leg injury

The scratches were the final stamp on weeks of turmoil at Churchill Downs. Seven horses have died at the track in recent days.

On Saturday, Chloe’s Dream, a 3-year-old gelding, was euthanized after the second race at Churchill Downs due to a right front knee injury, the Courier Journal reported.

Later, during the Pat Day Mile, Freezing Point suffered a left ankle injury and was euthanized, according to The Associated Press.

Two horses trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., who was suspended by the track, also had to be euthanized during the past week, the AP reported. Joseph’s entry for the Derby, Lord Miles, was scratched from Saturday’s race.

Take Charge Briana, a 3-year-old filly, had a “catastrophic” injury on Tuesday while taking part in the fifth race on the Churchill Downs turf. She had to be euthanized, WHAS-TV reported. Chasing Artie, a 5-year-old gelding that was trained by Joseph, collapsed after the eighth race and died.

Two more horses die at Churchill Downs, week after another horse euthanized after injury

In late April, Wild On Ice was scratched from the race but later had to be put down, according to the AP.

Last year’s Derby was won by Rich Strike, an 80-1 longshot, from the 20th position, entering the race after a late scratch. He was only the second horse in Kentucky Derby history to win the race from the No. 20 spot since the modern starting gate was introduced in 1930. Big Brown was the first, in 2008, according to ESPN.