Mystik Dan wins the 150th Kentucky Derby by less than a nose

Brian Hernandez Jr. rides Mystik Dan, right, runs to the finish line to win the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Brian Hernandez Jr. rides Mystik Dan, right, runs to victory in the the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

The photo to determine the winner of the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby took a few minutes to post but to those involved it might as well have been hours.

Mystik Dan, with a smart ride up the rail, had pulled to about a three-length lead with about a sixteenth of a mile to go. But Sierra Leone was coming fast on the outside and Forever Young was in between horses with a lot of finish. The lead kept getting smaller and smaller until it seemed to evaporate. Watching it live, the eye couldn’t pick a winner. But, the replay looked as if Mystic Dan had held on. Maybe.

“It took about two minutes,” said winning jockey Brian Hernandez. “And then finally when they said, ‘Yeah, you've just won the Kentucky Derby,’ I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that's a long two minutes.’ Yes, that was the longest two minutes in sports — from the fastest two minutes to the longest, by far.”

The official margin of victory was a nose and another nose separated Sierra Leone and Forever Young. But, it was really just one nose, and a small one at that, separating all three horses. It was the closest finish since 1996 when Grindstone beat Cavonnier by a nose and the closest three-way finish since 1947 when Jet Pilot won by a head. Most of the 156,170 in attendance knew they saw an ending for the ages.

Mystik Dan wins the Kentucky Derby over Sierra Leone and Forever Young in a photo finish Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Mystik Dan wins the Kentucky Derby over Sierra Leone and Forever Young in a photo finish Saturday at Churchill Downs. (Justin Casterline / Getty Images)

“Between the post position draw and the job that Brian did gave us a huge opportunity because we saved ground, saved ground, saved ground,” said winning trainer Kenny McPeek. “And when you look at that photo finish, I think we needed all of it to hold off the second and third place horses.”

The win completed a dream couple days for both Hernandez and McPeek. The pair won the Kentucky Oaks, the female equivalent of the Derby, with Thorpedo Anna. It was only the fourth time the same trainer had won both races. Saturday was the first Derby win for both McPeek and Hernandez.

“For three weeks, I’ve felt like we were going to win both races,” McPeek said. “I can’t tell you why. 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.”

Mystik Dan’s path to the Derby went through Hot Springs, Ark., where he was fifth in the Smarty Jones, won the Southwest Stakes over a muddy track and then finished third in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. In two weeks is the Preakness and it should be a rematch between Mystik Dan and Arkansas Derby winner Muth, who was ineligible for the Derby because he is trained by Bob Baffert.

It was the second straight year that trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole had the favorite but came up short for very different reasons. Last year they had the favorite in Forte but he was scratched by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on race day. On Saturday, Fierceness didn’t break sharply but was hustled to the lead by jockey John Velazquez. He backed off a little down the backstretch but folded in the stretch of the 1 ¼-mile race.

The rap on Fierceness is that he only runs well every other race, and he fit that pattern in the Derby.

“Johnny [Velazquez] said he hopped a little at the start,” Pletcher said. “Then he got wound up in all the company around him trying to make the lead. He couldn’t shake loose like he did in Florida. Just one of those races.”

The race was a celebration for Japanese racing with Forever Young finishing third and T O Password getting fifth. Forever Young was the third betting choice despite the fact that horses that had their last race in the Middle East were 0 for 19. Now that handicapping angle may go in the trash can.

Jockey Kazushi Kimura is hoping that T O Password sticks around.

“This was his third time running and he was in a new country,” Kimura said. “He probably wasn’t 100% mature. [Saturday] he finished up strong. I hope the horse can stay for the Preakness.”

Read more: Horse racing is looking to move on from Bob Baffert-Churchill Downs feud

The only California horse in the race, Stronghold, was in a good stalking position through the first mile but got swallowed up by closers and finished seventh.

“I had a beautiful race all the way around,” said jockey Antonio Fresu. “I was very relaxed all the way and then in the stretch when I tried to make a move, he went for it a little bit, he got discouraged but didn’t show up in the last part.”

The final order of finish was Mystik Dan, Sierra Leone, Forever Young, Catching Freedom, 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 paid $39.22 to win, $16.32 to place and $10.00 to show. Kentucky uses penny breakage while most states, such as California, round down to the dime.

Up next is the Preakness and there likely won’t be a lot of horses that ran in the Derby. But there will likely be one and it’s the only won that counts. The winner of the Kentucky Derby, Mystik Dan.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.