Mage, a 15-to-1 shot, won the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby by a length on Saturday.
The Kentucky Derby lost its early favorite when Forte was scratched and two more horses died, following a string of horse deaths earlier in the week at Churchill Downs, further blows to a sport already reeling from a series of doping suspensions and breakdowns.
“This is part of racing and it’s the cruel part,” Mike Repole, co-owner of Forte, said in an interview with FanDuel TV.
Mage had only one victory in three previous races before holding off Two Phil’s in the stretch while covering 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.57 under Javier Castellano. The Hall of Fame jockey snapped an 0-for-15 skid in the Derby. He and trainer Gustavo Delgado are from Venezuela.
Forte was the fifth scratch from the Derby in the days leading up to the $3 million race for 3-year-olds. Chloe’s Dream, a 3-year-old gelding, and Freezing Point, a 3-year-old colt, were injured in their races on the Derby undercard, and died at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
The string of horse deaths cast a pall for some Derby-goers on a mostly cloudy and warm day.
“It’s concerning, and I hope they’re quickly trying the best they can to correct whatever’s going on,” said Michael Freeze, who along with his friend dressed up as jockeys. “They need to do whatever is best for the horses, and the sport in general.”
Chloe’s Dream got hurt in the second race Saturday. The horse was taken off in an equine ambulance with a right front knee injury and was euthanized, trainer Jeff Hiles confirmed to The Associated Press.
“He just took a bad step out there,” Hiles said. “They could do the same thing running in the field as they could on the track. So it’s very unfortunate. That’s what we deal with.”
Freezing Point suffered a left ankle injury in the Pat Day Mile and was euthanized, trainer Joe Lejzerowicz told the AP. He said Fort Bragg, who finished third, came over and slammed into Freezing Point during the race.
“He just got bumped in the backstretch,” Lejzerowicz said. “He never took a bad step or bobble. He had a big heart.”
New antidoping and medication rules enforced by a central governing body of the sport are scheduled to take effect May 22.
“There’s something going on,” said Pat Murtha, who was attending his first Derby. “They need to find out, and set some rules and regulations to protect these animals.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.