Mystik Dan Noses Out Sierra Leone in 150th Kentucky Derby Thriller

Favorite Fierceness? El foldo.

Runner-up Sierra Leone? Excellent in defeat.

Longshot Mystik Dan? Kentucky Derby (G1) winner!

Mystik Dan a nose best in a three-way photo finish to win the 150th Kentucky Derby.

Dismissed at odds of 18-1, Mystik Dan was given a perfect trip under Brian Hernandez, Jr., holding off deep closer Sierra Leone by a nose and winning the 150th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on Saturday night in the closest finish since 1996, when Grindstone edged Cavonnier by a nose.

It took a few minutes to sort out the photo, but the decision was clear: Mystik Dan hit the wire first in the $5 million Kentucky Derby, Sierra Leone just missed, and Japan’s Forever Young was another nose behind in third place.

Mystik Dan. Coady Photo.

The last three-horse photo finish was in 1947, when Jet Pilot finished a head in front of Phalanx, who was another head ahead of Faultless.

Trainer Ken McPeek, in winning the Derby for the first time, became the first conditioner since 1952 to pull off an Oaks-Derby double. On Friday, his filly Thorpedo Anna won the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

“For three weeks, I’ve felt like we were going to win both races. I can’t tell you why,’’ McPeek said. “Both horses have been easy to deal with, the team has done such a great job every day. There’s been no drama. I just believe in mojo, in positive energy and we’ve had a lot of it.”

Hernandez, McPeek’s go-to rider, certainly had his mojo going. When the gates opened, Mystik Dan broke well from post 3 and was moved to the rail racing just behind front-running Phantom and Just Steel. By the quarter-pole, he moved to the front, with Forever Young and Sierra Leone closing in, and the leaders dropping back.

Mystik Dan’s Photo Finish Victory

The son of Goldencents withstood the strong challenge of Sierra Leone and, after a short review of the photo, Mystik Dan’s win was confirmed.

It was the first Triple Crown race win for Hernandez, and he said he followed jockey Calvin Borel’s Kentucky Derby wins by taking the shortest route to the finish.

“It’s definitely a surreal moment,’’ he said. “The last 20 years I’ve ridden in Kentucky, and as a young kid out of Louisiana, I had the chance of sitting in the same corner as Calvin Borel. Watching him ride all those Derbys all those years, and today with Mystik Dan, being in the 3 hole, I watched a couple of his rides, with Super Saver and Mine That Bird, and I decided that we were going to roll the dice.

“That’s the nice thing about Kenny, he lets me make those decisions. We had the right kind of horse to give him that kind of trip.”

Fierceness, meanwhile, the 3-1 favorite off his record-setting Florida Derby (G1) win, was a dud once again, racing in second place after three-quarters of a mile and then weakening to finish a dismal 15th. In six career starts, he’s won one race with authority and was soundly beaten in the next race.

Chad Brown’s Sierra Leone Just Misses in the Kentucky Derby’s Final Stretch

Sierra Leone, the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner trained by Chad Brown, rallied from eighth in the final quarter mile but just missed at the wire.

“You get beat a nose in the Kentucky Derby, it’s a tough one,’’ said Brown, seeking his first Derby win. “But he’s a tremendous horse, nearly undefeated. I’m just so lucky to have him, so proud of his effort today. He did what we asked him to do, just came up a little bit short.”

Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, aboard Fierceness, said his 2-year-old champion did not start well, was pressured by horses on his outside, and belatedly got into the bridle.

“I tried to keep him as settled as much without letting doing too much but he was already engaged. When I let him go, he just didn’t have it.”

Forever Young came into the Kentucky Derby with a 5-0 record, and finished a strong third, with T O Password, Japan’s other entry, running fifth in the full field of 20 3-year-olds.

The winning time for the 1 ¼ miles was 2:03.34. Mystik Dan returned $39.22 on a $2 win bet; a $1 trifecta of 3-2-11 returned $1,113.84.

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

Mystic Dan, owned by Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing, Daniel Hamby III, and Valley View Farm, earned $3.1 million for the win, boosting his career earnings to $3,741,360.

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