Mystik Dan, at 18-1, edges out two rivals to win the 150th Kentucky Derby

Mystik Dan. right. wins the Kentucky Derby in a photo finish at Churchill Downs. Forever Young, middle, finished third and Sierra Leone. left, was second
Mystik Dan. right. wins the Kentucky Derby in a photo finish at Churchill Downs. Forever Young, middle, finished third and Sierra Leone. left, was second - Michael Clevenger and Christopher Granger/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

An 18-1 bet, Mystik Dan, has won the 150th Kentucky Derby in a dramatic photo finish for three horses.

On Saturday Mystik Dan, ridden by Brian J. Hernandez Jr, fought to hang on with the two challengers coming to him in the closing strides. He did so, but only after a delay of several minutes while the closest three-horse photo finish since 1947 was sorted out.

That year, Jet Pilot won by a head over Phalanx, who was another head in front of Faultless. This one was much tighter.

Mystik Dan edged Sierra Leone by a nose, with Forever Young another nose back in third. Sierra Leone was the most expensive horse in the race at $2.3 million, the Associated Press reported. Mystik Dan ran the 1¼ miles over a fast track in 2:03.34 and paid $39.22, $16.32 and $10.

Sierra Leone, the second choice at 9-2 odds, and Forever Young from Japan came up just short at the wire in front of 156,710 people at Churchill Downs, the largest crowd since 2018. “You get beat a nose in the Kentucky Derby, it’s a tough one,” said Chad Brown, trainer of Sierra Leone. “But I’m so proud of the horse.”

Long shots Track Phantom and Just Steel led the field through the early going, with 3-1 favourite Fierceness racing three-wide just off the leaders.

Turning in the 150th Kentucky Derby
Turning in the 150th Kentucky Derby - Leandro Lozada/AFP via Getty Images

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. He quickly opened up a daylight advantage on the field.

“When he shot through that spot, he was able to cut the corner and I asked him to go for it,” Hernandez said later. “He shot off and I’m like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got a big chance to win the Kentucky Derby.’”

On Mystik Dan’s outside, Sierra Leone and Forever Young took up the chase in the middle of the track.

As Mystik Dan sped along the rail, Sierra Leone, ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, bumped Forever Young three times in the stretch, but jockey Ryusei Sakai didn’t claim foul.

Mystik Dan got so close to the rail that Hernandez’s boot struck it. “But I think we can buy another pair of boots,” he said.

Jockey Brian J. Hernandez celebrates
Jockey Brian J. Hernandez celebrates - Matt Stone/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

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

“Just a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant jockey and ride,” Mystic Dan trainer Kenny McPeek said. “Brian is one of the most underrated jockeys, but not any more, right?”

It was just the 10th Kentucky Derby decided by a nose – the closest margin in horse racing – and the first since Grindstone edged Cavonnier to wear the garland of red roses in 1996.

The crowd waited several minutes in the heat and humidity as the result was reviewed by the stewards and declared official.

“The longest few minutes of my life,” Hernandez said, after he and Mystik Dan walked in circles while the stunning result was settled. “To see your number flash up to win the Derby, I don’t think it will sink in for a while.”

Fierceness finished 15th in the field of 20 3-year-olds. Owner Mike Repole is 0 for 8 in the derby. He had the favourite in 2011 with Uncle Mo, who was scratched the day before the race with an illness. Last year, Forte was scratched the morning of the race as the favorite with a bruised foot.

Mystik Dan trainer Kenny McPeek, centre, raises the trophy - Michael Reaves/Getty Images North America

Hernandez and McPeek had teamed for a wire-to-wire 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 victory in a Triple Crown race was also a shocker: 70-1 Sarava won the 2002 Belmont Stakes – the biggest upset in that race’s history. The colt spoiled the Triple Crown bid of War Emblem.

The winning owners are cousins Lance and Brent Gasaway and Daniel Hamby III, all from Arkansas. They bred Mystik Dan.

“We’ve done it with what I call working-class horse,” McPeek said, explaining the colt’s sire and dam weren’t big names.

Sharilyn Gasaway, Brent’s wife, said, “It is surreal for sure. We feel like we’re just ordinary people and we’ve got an amazing horse.”

Mystik Dan owner Brent Gasaway and jockey Brian J. Hernandez Jr after the 150th running
Mystik Dan co-owner Brent Gasaway and jockey Brian J. Hernandez Jr after the 150th running - Clare Grant/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Sierra Leone returned $6.54 and $4.64. Forever Young was another nose back in third and paid $5.58 to show.

Catching Freedom was fourth, followed by T O Password of Japan, Resilience, Stronghold, Honor Marie and Endlessly. Dornoch was 10th and then came 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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