Daniella Ricci/Past The Wire
Churchill Downs Press Release
JIM MULVIHILL: All right, ladies and gentlemen, the winner of Kentucky Derby 149 is, of course, Mage. And we are very pleased right now to be joined by some of the winning connections. Starting at the far end, we have Sam Herzberg, part of the ownership group. We have Ramiro Restrepo. Ramiro helped to pick out the horse and make the purchase. We also have, of course, Gustavo Delgado Jr, whose father is the trainer of record and hopefully will be joining us here shortly. And Javier Castellano, the winning rider.
Gentlemen, congratulations to you all. I think I would like to start with Javier. Your first Derby win in 16 tries. Tell us how it felt?
JAVIER CASTELLANO: First of all, I would like to say thank you, God, Lord, Jesus Christ for giving me the opportunity. I feel amazing. I feel like I’m on top of the world. (laughter)
It’s a great feeling. The one thing I never ‑‑ always been consistent in my career, I would like to be ‑‑ I never give up. Sometimes you feel embarrassed a little bit when you been trying so many times, and you don’t see the results. And sometimes you go down a little bit. But I didn’t give up. I always tried to be positive and tried to find the right horse to participate in one of the biggest races in the world.
It’s amazing when somebody believes in you, and they trust you and they put it in your hand and yourself. I think that’s one thing I have always been grateful for, all the Delgado team and Mr. Herzberg, he gives me the opportunity to ride the horse. I never forget that phone call I did to him and Gustavo [Delgado] and our team, Ramiro [Restrepo], and give me the opportunity to ride the horse in the biggest race in the world, basically.
When I was in the jockey room and NBC put “0‑15 Javier Castellano,” in that moment, it gives me so much inspiration myself. And I think this is the year. I’m going to break the year, and I’m going to win the race. I feel a lot of confidence in myself. I have been describing the race. I have been dreaming that way for many years.
Only needed a little opportunity to get it done, and I’m glad I did it.
JIM MULVIHILL: Javier, if you would rumor us, take us through the race in as much detail as you can recall.
JAVIER CASTELLANO: We have a plan. I think I leave the hole and tended to doesn’t break a little bit out of the gate for any race. And the horse, he didn’t break. A lot of speed in the race. You can see a lot of horse, the same style, the same speed.
I took my time. I didn’t rush him. Just to let him go break out of the gate and save all the ground he basically could in the first turn. And let him develop in the horse all the way. Even the backside, when Tapit Trice, I felt on the inside and tried to squeeze a little bit in between horses.
I didn’t panic. I couldn’t rush a little bit. I took a little bit forward. I took my time with him, because the way he run the Florida Derby, it was a very, very impressive horse.
He show he got a lot of potential. He can do anything you can do. And I think I believe in the horse, in the team. Gustavo did a great job with the horse. And especially, we have a great, great conversation Thursday morning, Gustavo myself and Gustavo Jr. and all the connections and the stable.
We talked forever, and I think it made me feel more comfortable when we have a great communication together. And we did the pros and cons. We put the positive and negative. I tried to put everything together.
And we have a plan. We have a plan A, B, C. Because when you go to the Kentucky Derby and when you have 20 horses, it’s really, really hard handicapping for anyone – jockeys, trainer, owner, anybody – because anything can happen in the race.
If we break the horse out of the gate, he wouldn’t be in the lead. But the horse, he missed the break. When I miss a break, I’m using my best shot in the race. I try to win the race. I try to do the best for the horse and try to win it for the connection. And they believe me. They hired me to do the job. I got to do the best I can to win ‑‑ to bring the horse to win the Kentucky Derby.
JIM MULVIHILL: We will talk more about the running of the race. Gustavo, I would like to hear from you. If your son wants to translate for us, that’s fine.
Initially, I would just like to hear from you and what you’re feeling.
GUSTAVO DELGADO, SR.: I’m very happy, very happy. Javier say – oh. I have a horse but only for my team, for Mage, principal for Mage, for my owner, for my family. I’m very happy to win the Kentucky Derby. I love you so much.
And my apologies for people because my English is not very good. I prefer to talk with Ramiro [Restrepo] and my son, Gustavo Jr.
JIM MULVIHILL: Gustavo Jr., maybe you can talk to us about the development of this lightly raced horse this year and just the progression up to this race.
GUSTAVO DELGADO, JR.: Pretty much of all the horses, the horse is very talented. He always gave us that confidence that we had a horse for the Derby. As soon as they started racing five furlongs, six furlongs, every time we ask him, he was fast. And not just that, horse is very smart. He’s quiet. And he’s the kind of horse that lets you do what you want with him, not the other way around.
And I think that’s the best quality of him. Other than that, you can bump him, and he will be right there. You can see his face full of dirt. I mean, he kept grinding, and that’s what I like about the horse. It gives you confidence.
JIM MULVIHILL: Ramiro, congratulations. I want to hear from you, both what you’re feeling. And then also after we hear about that, if you could encapsulate this ownership group and explain to everybody who all’s a partner on this horse. But first just how you’re feeling.
RAMIRO RESTREPO: The emotions are just through the roof, obviously. The amount of friends that we all have. The ownership group is four different groups from four different backgrounds, all different age ranges, nationalities. I mean, it’s one heck of a melting pot that came together for this horse, so. The amount of celebration that’s going to go on, I can’t even describe it going forward.
But it’s just Gustavo [Delgado] and I have been trying to raise our profiles. Gustavo, Gustavo Sr. as a trainer has had so much success in South America, and he has come here and has always had a small boutique stable and has always wanted to increase his presence to have more quality horses with a lot more owners.
Myself as a bloodstock agent who has been trying to increase his profile as well, we kind of combined forces three years ago to start buying horses domestically and internationally and try to invest a little money and use the relationships that I have here to bring in people that are willing to have the faith to go forward with us and take the swing.
This is a game that there’s so many successful people that are buying in bulk at the highest end of the sport. And I feel like they have unlimited bullets, and I have a musket. We have a musket, so when we buy, we almost can’t miss. Gustavo and I went to the Fasig‑Tipton Timonium two‑year‑old sale, and we narrowed it down to two horses. If you can believe it, it was this Good Magic colt or the City of Light filly that ended up being Mimi Kakushi that ended up in the Oaks.
And we had a budget in mind, Gustavo and myself, to start bidding. When it got to that number and I started to hesitate, Gustavo took out his whip, cracked me two times, and said “Let’s go! Don’t stop bidding.” And we went up 290,000, which in the real world, it’s a lot of money. But in horse racing it’s just ‑‑ it’s a respectable number, but it’s by no means a lot of money.
And we ended up getting the horse. Since we went over budget, we needed to put together an ownership group. I immediately called Sam Herzberg of Sterling Racing. He’s in real estate down in Miami. I have known him in over ten years. We have some great mutual friends in common.
Sam actually had a Derby horse, Black Onyx, that qualified for the Derby and scratched the morning of. I know Sam has been chasing the Derby for over a decade to try to get in. And Sam didn’t hesitate and jumped right in.
Then I had met Chase Chamberlin and Brian Doxtator of CMNWLTH, who are an exciting ownership group. They have a piece of Country Grammer and have won some high‑profile races. They are very excited, and they have a huge microshare company that has a lot of fans and micro‑investors that are super passionate, and it’s a great platform.
And they jumped in immediately as well. So the four of us were able to cover the four bases of this horse.
You brought a guy from California, from Tennessee, Sam from South Florida, me from Miami. I call him the Big Puma. If you look at him, he looks like a puma, with his white mane ‑‑ and Puma Jr. So, the Pumas. We came together, and, brother, here we are.
Q. A couple years ago, you had a horse, Caracaro, who almost got to the Derby, but he got injured and couldn’t make it. I was wondering with that in mind and seeing Forte come out, could you empathize with them, first of all? And, secondly, your thoughts when Forte came out being that you were second to him once?
GUSTAVO DELGADO, JR.: We faced Forte a couple times in Florida. We know his talent. We respected the horse a lot coming into this race. At the end of the day, I think the horse was going to be fine, from what we have been hearing. We will face him down the line.
We lost a horse at the beginning of the week. He’s not coming back. I forgot the name of the horse, the one that passed. So that’s when I really feel like there’s no chance. Forte is hopefully going to be fine, and we will face him later again.
Q. With Caracaro, how close did you get to making it here?
GUSTAVO DELGADO, JR.: Yeah, especially going to the Derby, pretty much like this horse, he was getting better with races. Lightly raced as well, Caracaro. Very talented.
There is a big difference sounds‑wise. The other horse, we always were working against issues that he had.
But with these horses, totally different everything.
Q. Could you talk about how much the Derby was on your father’s mind when he left Venezuela to train in South Florida?
GUSTAVO DELGADO, JR.: I think my dad, with the success of Canonero II, as you know, Venezuelan connections that won the Derby, he grew up in a generation where everybody was talking about it. And he always felt like he could accomplish that. I remember when I was a kid, because when he was successful down in Venezuela, he would always tell me, “One day, we should go to the States and win one of those races.”
And it came to a point when he won it all down in Venezuela and the Caribbean, because they have races where they get together. And it’s been eight years since we got here.
This is the fourth time that we qualified with a horse for the Derby. Third time that we race, because that horse that you mentioned before, Caracaro, couldn’t race. And now we’re here.
JIM MULVIHILL: Gustavo, how big of a story will this be in Venezuela?
GUSTAVO DELGADO, JR.: I mean, the combination between Javier [Castellano] and my dad, I know for a fact that it’s going to bring a lot of people. And pretty much the energy of that, it felt great. It felt great, because you knew you have a whole country was backing you up.
Q. Javier, you said the key was that you took your time. How difficult was that to do when you missed the break? How anxious do you get when you’re behind in a field that large?
JAVIER CASTELLANO: Not at all. I think I had a lot of confidence in the horse. And I took my time. We have a plan. We talk together, and we describe the race; what happens if you miss the break. And Gustavo [Delgado], he gave me a lot of confidence. And the way we talk, he say: Take your time, enjoy the ride, don’t rush the horse. Let him develop, the horse.
And we all had the conversation, we have it together. I feel a lot of confidence in myself, in the horse, in the connection. And the horse had been training. Gustavo had been very successful all his career, the way he develops the horses for the long distance. And I have a lot of confidence because I knew I don’t want to rush the horse in the beginning of the race. I just want to let him develop the horse and don’t get panic, let him develop the horse. I know it’s going to be a lot of speed.
You have to be aware of all the horses that start backing up a little bit. You have to be aware, don’t get in trouble. And that’s what ‑‑ I think I was very aware of don’t get struck between the horses and get a clear path and let him run the horse.
Because I knew when I was going to ask him, I’m going to have a lot of horse. But I think in the end, I think the horse is going to give me the best run ever.
JIM MULVIHILL: Down the backside, it looked like you had a lot of horse. He was pulling on you. Just talk about the feeling when you know you’ve got a lot of horse under you, and when you knew that, like, he was loaded for the stretch?
JAVIER CASTELLANO: Yeah, it’s a great feeling when you are on the backside, the horse, he pull, he grab the bit, he follow the other horses. He grabs you in the better spot. And you feel like you are the pilot. You have to control the horse the best you can. Don’t lose your energy. You have to wait for turning for home and let him save for all the best he can.
In the meantime, you have to be aware of what the horse is developing himself. And, one, the horse you had to be aware of was ‑‑ and my target was Tapit Trice. But Tapit Trice I didn’t see around, and my view he was right behind me.
I tried to move before he make the move, because I knew he’s going to come at some point. I always try to be analyzing and handicapping the race the best I can to the jockeys and the horses, every single move.
When turning for home, I knew I cannot win the race at the 3/8 pole. Just let him roll a little by little, little by little, because I knew when you ask, you push a button, the horse is going to give me everything he has. The way he had been trained, the way the horse is, I saw every single work, the way he galloped.
Especially it’s a great connection because I want to tell you one thing. I want to give credit to the exercise rider, J.J. Delgado. He did a great job with the horse. He had been riding the horse for many years. He was the jockey before. Now he galloped the horse. It’s a great, great connection.
J.J. Delgado, he rode with my dad. That’s a small world. And my dad, he rode with Gustavo. I feel like ‑‑ I think it’s meant to be. I think I’m going to win the Derby this year. I think it’s all the connection.
And thank God, we’re here. We celebrate and try to bring the race to my country, Venezuela. It’s really important for us, our country.
JIM MULVIHILL: Brian and Chase, right? Congratulations to you, too. They are the co‑founders of CMNWLTH, the microshare ownership venture that Ramiro [Restrepo] mentioned. We will get to them in a few minutes as well.
Q. Javier, you had a big day today. You won the Derby. You won the American Turf. It’s been a tough week here at Churchill Downs. Can you talk about the condition of both courses, the dirt and the turf?
JAVIER CASTELLANO: It seemed to me both the turf is in really good shape. The turf is amazing. All the horses, they run good. And being very fair, I think I give a lot of credit to Churchill Downs. They have been taking the track and the horses. Things happen in races. Unfortunately, this weekend, a lot of horses was gone. I don’t know, the horses unfortunately they go through a tough time, especially this weekend.
But nothing to do with the track. I think the track is in great condition. I won a Grade I race early in the grass, in the turf. It’s a great condition, nice, very smooth. Horses that come from behind, horses’ speed, I mean, it’s very fair for every single one. As well in the dirt, too, I run the dirt with Baby Yoda. The horse come from behind, too. It’s been pretty fair, good fresh track. It’s in great, great condition.
Q. Given the number of horses that died this week, were you at all hesitant to race Mage today? And do you worry about whether this could hurt the sport of racing?
RAMIRO RESTREPO: It’s a very difficult subject, especially in the climate of 2023. We are very sensitive to these unfortunate instances.
All I can say is, we do our best to take care of our horses. We treat them better than we treat our children. And we had full confidence in the soundness of our horse. He’s been training here for two weeks and actually has been flourishing over this racetrack. He has come back super sound, and the state veterinarians were checking him regularly, per all the other horses as well. And our horse, as the only one I can speak about, completely was thriving on this course.
As far as the tragedies that occurred, it’s a very difficult subject to touch upon. I’m sure there’s going to be some investigations done as to the reasons behind that, and hopefully that provides a few more answers.
But all we can do is just focus on ourselves and our barn and the top care that we give our horses, and how well they responded to it while here. Because we don’t only just have Mage here, we have two other horses that have been training over this course and will be running here the next couple weeks as well. They have all been taking to the course just fine.
Q. Gustavo Jr., you mentioned writing a note to yourself a year ago about winning the Derby this year. What gave you the confidence to feel like you guys were that close in obtaining it?
GUSTAVO DELGADO, JR.: That’s a personal subject, but pretty much, yes. I came to a point where I starting to believe in pretty much in myself and that we were as capable as anybody to win big things. So for certain period now, we are thinking big, acting big, and expecting big things to happen. And here we are.
Q. Ramiro, can you just take us through what the feeling was going into that final stretch?
RAMIRO RESTREPO: So luckily, as not only being the owner, but also feeling responsible of getting these boys and Sam [Herzberg] in on the team, I have spent a lot of time with the barn kind of being a liaison amongst the ownership group; and talking to Gustavo [Delgado] a lot about the horse’s strategy and what our plans are with this horse.
We’ve always known he was very talented, but he has, at the start, not perfected what he could do. At the Florida Derby, Gustavo told the rider, “Have patience when you get out of the gate. The horse isn’t afraid of kickback. And the way that I train him, he’ll start looking for the race himself.”
And that’s something that sometimes the general public doesn’t understand. These horses are trained. They know the poles. They know where the finish line is. They’re taught to go on and look for the finish line. Gustavo is a Ph.D. expert on getting the horses ready to run 1 1/4, 13/16, 1 1/2. That’s what we call his bread and butter.
When the horse broke ‑‑ we had this talk on Thursday. I have a cool picture of Javier [Castellano] almost talking with the horse, too, where we went over the game plan. Let him break, and everything was going according to plan. I kept looking at the clock. They went 22, 45, 1:10, which were fast fractions, and the horse was just finding his own rhythm.
And that gave me confidence. Javi has ridden Go Zapper, Honor Code, Bernardini. I mean, these are hall‑of‑fame horses that are the Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson of our sport. So never did I ever think anything other than we were in great hands with having someone with his timing.
He started slicing through horses. He was reminiscent of a ride that Jerry Bailey gave on Sea Hero when I was in high school, and that’s what came to me. I’m like, “Javi is picking them off.” And when they turned for home and you see that the horse ‑‑ Javi pushes the horse and the horse is going, then we all become armchair jockeys. I am there chirping and riding, and we are all bringing him home.
You have all these jockeys up here as well up in the stands, and so many more at home in Miami and in Venezuela, and where these boys are from, California, Kentucky, and so many friends that are here in our adopted home of Kentucky. And we all brought him home. It was just magic, man.
Q. Can you tell us the story of this horse not racing as a 2‑year‑old?
RAMIRO RESTREPO: The horse came out of a 2‑year‑old sale in May at Fasig‑Tipton Timonium, and it’s always standard practice for us after going through the NFL combine of a 2‑year‑old sale to just give them some time off. We gave him about two months off. Just turned out to power up.
We brought him over to the Thoroughbred Training Center in Paris, just outside of Lexington, Kentucky.
Gustavo [Delgado] is a very patient trainer. We never say to ourselves we are going to focus on Saratoga in August or Keeneland in October. It’s always let the horse dictate when he’s going to achieve his top level of fitness.
Towards October and November in Kentucky, the weather started changing where it started getting just a little more rainy, a little more damp, more mud. And with a baby especially, you just want to take your time and have all the ideal conditions.
Since Florida is home for us, we do seven, eight months out of the year in Kentucky and four, five months in Miami for the winter meet.
We just started doing the planning. When can this horse debut? Because, technically, he could have been ready to run end of November, December. The condition book, which is just the calendar of races that the racetrack releases ‑‑ Gulfstream released their scheduling and had a maiden special weight race on Pegasus Day. And that was just targeted by Gustavo. Could the horse have raced January 7th or January 4th? sure. But Gustavo has a flare for loving to run on big days. (laughter)
And he told us ‑‑ while some of us are saying, Well, let’s pick an easier spot, Gustavo was like, No. We’re going to Pegasus Day and are running there.
So many high‑profile connections put forth their best babies to run on a big day like Pegasus down in Miami with the media coverage and the buzz at the racetrack.
We faced some really nice horses that day. Bourbon Resolve came out of there and won at Keeneland at his next start. And Perform won the Federico Tesio, which is a qualifier to the Preakness. So as time went on, we saw it was a really live race.
It wasn’t necessarily that the horse had any physical setbacks or any ailments ‑‑ to wrap up your question. It’s just that Gustavo is a patient guy and let the horse take it little by little.
Obviously, the move from Kentucky to Miami was another a little just reset of time. But when he saw the Pegasus race on that day at the end of January, he just called it and said, “That’s where I’m going” and that’s where we ran.
JIM MULVIHILL: Sam, we haven’t heard from you. You look like a very satisfied man right now with your mint julep sitting in front of you. What have you been feeling in the last half‑hour, 45 minutes?
SAM HERZBERG: Ecstasy. (laughter)
For me, this is, like ‑‑ ten years ago I had a horse named Black Onyx. And we came to the Derby, and we were feeling really good. And then he twisted his ankle the day before, and we had to scratch.
And I don’t have to tell you how depressed you get when something like that happens. This is the Derby. Some people ‑‑ I don’t care who you are ‑‑ never make it to the Derby. I had a little barn.
So it’s been ten years, and Ramiro [Restrepo] calls me. I’m in California. He said, “I just bought a horse at the Mid‑Atlantic sale. I think he’s the best Good Magic in the country.” I said, yeah, I will take 25%.
And to come back here ten years later and not only get in the Derby but win the Derby, I don’t know, I don’t know what to say. It’s just magical.
Like the name “Mage,” Gustavo ‑‑ I mean, Ramiro [Restrepo] for an hour we were on the phone thinking of a name. And Ramiro comes up, “I got a good one, Mage.” I said, “What does Mage mean?” He said, “Wizard. It means he’s a magician.” I said, “I love it.” And it was available from The Jockey Club. And that’s his name, and he is a magician. He’s a wizard.
And thanks to the great team we have here, Gustavo and Jr. and Sr. I mean, J.J. [Delgado] and Ramiro, unbelievable. It all came together today.
What can I say? Happiest man in the world.
JIM MULVIHILL: Sam, you are one of the few people based on Black Onyx that could probably really feel what Mike Repole was feeling this morning. And now here you are ten years later with your Derby winner. What would you say about that situation?
SAM HERZBERG: You are 100% right. I saw Mike walk by when I was sitting in our box. I wanted to kind of ‑‑ he was going so fast, I wanted to grab him, you know, and say, “I know exactly how you feel,” you know?
Believe me, I feel bad for him. But Mike will come back. I’m sure he will have a great horse next year in the Derby. I wish him the best.
Q. Can you tell us in Spanish a few words about how you feel? Especially for all the Latin people that helped put together one of the biggest sport events in the world.
GUSTAVO DELGADO, SR.: (Speaking in Spanish).
JIM MULVIHILL: Governor [Andy] Beshear requests your presence over at the Derby Museum. Before you go, we have to ask about Baltimore and the Preakness. You haven’t had a lot of time to think about it. But your first thought, maybe, Gustavo, what do you think of the Preakness?
GUSTAVO DELGADO, SR.: I prefer it’s good to wait. They come back the horse at my barn. Today we decided, depending on the horse, would ride ‑‑ more important is the horse come back. Wednesday, we decided with my owners, with my people, with my team, the horse, this is important, come back the horse.
JIM MULVIHILL: You have won three Triple Crowns.
GUSTAVO DELGADO, SR.: It’s possible.
JIM MULVIHILL: You know how to do it.
GUSTAVO DELGADO, SR.: It can happen.
JIM MULVIHILL: What would be a good time to come out in the morning and followup? What time will you be at the barn tomorrow?
GUSTAVO DELGADO, SR.: 9:00 is good. 9:00 is a good time.
JIM MULVIHILL: Congratulations, once again.
GUSTAVO DELGADO, SR.: Thank you so much. (applause)
JIM MULVIHILL: Mage, winner of the Kentucky Derby.