There was a time when it was nearly unheard of for a Kentucky Derby winner to go winless after the first Saturday in May. Unfortunately, that is no longer true.
We want our Derby winners to validate the career-defining victory, but it has become all too common to see them find little to no success after wearing the roses. He’s run only twice since the Derby, but it’s fair to wonder, with recent history, whether Mage is heading down an all-too-familiar path.
Is Mage destined to become another Super Saver, Orb, Nyquist, Always Dreaming, Country House or Rich Strike and never win another race after enjoying Kentucky Derby success?
I don’t think so. In my opinion, Mage is heading down a different, but also familiar, path entirely.
After breaking his maiden impressively in his career debut for trainer Gustavo Delgado, the son of Good Magic has competed against the best of the crop in his next five starts. Although the Kentucky Derby has been the only victory of the five, Mage continues to run well and may be showing a favorable pattern in these graded-stakes performances.
The second career start for the colt owned by OGMA Investments, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing & Commonwealth Thoroughbreds came in the Fountain of Youth (G2), which featured the returning 2-year-old champion Forte.
Hampered by a tough trip and a lack of experience, Mage checked in fourth that afternoon. Much as his chances were considerably hindered by a complete lack of pace in the Preakness, the defeat can easily be excused.
Undeterred, his connections brought him right back for the Florida Derby (G1) and another meeting with Forte. They could have found an easier spot for his third career race, but confidence was shown in their $290,000 purchase.
He did not win on April 1, but make no mistake, Mage ran big. Coming from last early, he made a big sweeping move that carried him by Forte and the rest of the field, and he looked like a winner mid-stretch. Forte responded, though, and the lightly raced chestnut settled for a strong runner-up finish in his final race before the Kentucky Derby.
I hate to call Saturday’s $1 million Haskell Stakes a prep, but that is exactly what the Mage team seemed to do with Monmouth Park’s signature event. The Grade 1 race on the Jersey Shore attracted a very good field, and the Derby hero was disrespected just a bit and sent off at odds of 4-1.
This lack of respect was because of several reasons. Arabian Knight, although he only ran twice, was impressively unbeaten and trained by Bob Baffert, who has won the Haskell nine times. We’ve also come to be less than surprised when a Derby winner falls flat.
The final reason that Mage was let go at attractive odds coming off his third place run in the Preakness is the most important. For his connections, the Haskell was not the endgame. They see next month’s Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga as the big goal of the summer.
Deciding to run at Monmouth Park only days before the race and without the strongest series of workouts coming in, the Haskell truly looked like a prep for Mage. You never would have known it, though, when the colt flashed a quick turn of foot on the far turn.
His big move in the Haskell under regular rider Javier Castellano was very reminiscent of his run three starts earlier in the Florida Derby. Clearly that performance, five weeks before the Kentucky Derby, set him up early for his best on the first Saturday in May.
An electrifying move, only to weaken late in the Florida Derby, was the perfect experience for the huge test to follow. I saw a very similar-looking performance Saturday at Monmouth Park.
Running well only to fall a little short late in the nine-furlong tightener to a talented colt in Geaux Rocket Ride should once again prepare him wonderfully for the main goal of the summer, the 10-furlong Travers.
The Travers, which comes five weeks after the Haskell, will be no easy task with the likes of Forte and Arcangelo on the list of probables, but it seems to me that Mage is on a very familiar path.
Not the path of all those recent Kentucky Derby winners who never won another race, but rather of a top-notch colt who should be primed to run his best in what could be the Eclipse award-deciding race.
Having a Kentucky Derby winner who succeeds after the big win is good for racing. Mage looks very much like a horse who still will do big things. Only time will tell, but I will be rooting for him to do just that, and I like his chances.