The Party Went On for McPeek

May 6, 2024

The morning after at McPeek Barn following Kentucky Derby-Kentucky Oaks Sweep. (Coady Media/Churchill Downs)

Kentucky Derby Update

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Standing outside his barn at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning, trainer Kenny McPeek was asked to sum up his feelings about Mystik Dan’s victory in the 150th running of the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) just about 12 hours earlier.

“Wow,” was all the Lexington native could say.

Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing and Daniel Hamby III’s Mystik Dan, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., pulled off an 18-1 upset in Saturday’s Run for the Roses, finishing a nose ahead of 4-1 Sierra Leone and Tyler Gaffalione, who was another nose in front of 7-1 Forever Young (JPN), with Ryusei Sakai aboard.

Wow was what many of the 156,710 were saying as Hernandez used a ground-saving trip before guiding Mystik Dan through a tiny space that opened along the rail to the front. They passed a tiring Track Phantom, with Joel Rosario, then staved off a closing rush from his competition in the field of 20 3-year-olds.

“Brian Hernandez gave him the ride,” a joyous but sleep-deprived McPeek said. “Look, he doesn’t win the race without the job Brian did.”

The Derby victory came a day after the pair teamed up win the $1.5 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) for 3-year-old fillies Friday afternoon at Churchill Downs before a crowd of 107,236. 

Brian Hernandez, Jr., beaming aboard Thorpedo Anna after their Oaks victory. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Brian Hernandez, Jr., beaming aboard Thorpedo Anna after their Oaks victory. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

“I was fortunate to ride for Kenny,” said Hernandez about the Derby. “He and the owners entrusted in me to have the daring trip that we had. And we were fortunate to have a horse that trusted us, and he went through a couple of tight spots, and never thought twice about doing it. It was like, ‘No problem,’ and did it. It’s a big team effort, more than anything.”

The victory in 2:03.34 for the mile-and-a-quarter was worth $3.1 million. The most recent time the Derby was decided by a nose was in 1996 when Grindstone edged Cavonnier. To have three horses finish a nose apart in a photo finish, you have to go back to 1947, when Jet Pilot finished a head in front of Phalanx, who was another head in front of Faultless.

McPeek put a call on speaker from Pimlico Race Course officials of the invitation to run Mystik Dan in the Preakness in just 13 days.

While accepting the invite, McPeek said, “We’re not committing. When I ran him back in two weeks (at Churchill Downs last November), it completely backfired. And we skipped the Rebel (at Oaklawn Park) because it was too short as well. So, we’ll watch him over the next week, and probably decide then. It will be a last-minute decision. We’ll let him tell us.”

The field for the 150th Derby on their way to history. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Hernandez found just enough room to squeeze Mystic Dan through along the rail. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

In one of the most exciting Derby finishes, Hernandez found just enough room to squeeze Mystic Dan through along the rail.

“It got pretty tight,” Hernandez admitted. “Going around the second turn, I was watching those horses to the outside, and the thing about a race like that, everyone starts to make their moves. They can just stack and stack and stack, but we were just sitting there waiting. And the minute that Joel (Rosario, riding 41-1 Track Phantom) made a half a step to go meet those horses, we’re shooting through. When we did that, he (Joel) tried to come back down, but by then, Mystik Dan was already through there.”

After slipping into the lead, Mystik Dan appeared headed to victory by a comfortable margin, but fast-closing Sierra Leone and Forever Young made it unbelievably tight at the wire. 

“We kind of busted through there right before we straightened up and headed for home, Hernandez said. “And Mystik Dan switched leads, and spurted off, it was like, hurry up and get to the wire as fast as we can. It was just rolling. When we got to the eighth pole, I was thinking, wow, we’re about to win the Kentucky Derby. And then, right at the wire, it was like, maybe we got beat. He never stopped running. It was the first time they were going a mile-and-a-quarter, those horses were getting to him late, but he was there for us.”

Both Hernandez and McPeek won the Oaks and Derby for the first time. McPeek became the first trainer since Ben Jones in 1952 to win both the Oaks and Derby. “I wish I could have met him,” McPeek said.

Trainer Kenny McPeek and family celebrate Mystic Dan's victory. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Trainer Kenny McPeek and family celebrate Mystic Dan’s victory. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

“For three weeks, I’ve felt that we had a shot at winning both races,” McPeek said. “Both horses have been doing fantastic. There was never any little issue, anywhere or anytime, with either horse. It was always all systems go.”

Two members of the partnership that owns Mystik Dan were at the McPeek barn on Sunday, checking out the horse, talking to the news media, and accepting the presentation of WWE championship title belts that the fight organization is presenting to winners at various sporting events this year.

When asked how many trips to the Kentucky Derby they’ve made, both Lance Gasaway and Sherilyn Gasaway, wife of Lance’s cousin Brent, made a startling admission.

“Just one,” Lance and Sherilyn said in unison, as she held up her index finger to signify 1.

Mystik Dan is a bay colt by the sire Goldencents, out of Ma’am, a Colonel John mare that the partners had raced. The breeding to the Spendthrift Farm sire was a match made in heaven.

“Kenny’s the one who suggested it,” Sharilyn Gasaway said.

Hernandez and Mystik Dan Sunday morning. (Coady Media/Past The Wire)

Whether he races in the Preakness on May 18 or not, the Derby winner will ship directly the Saratoga in upstate New York, prepping for the June 8 Belmont Stakes. McPeek and his wife have a house there, and he said they’d accompany Mystik Dan while getting the house ready for the Belmont meeting at the track, and the regular Saratoga meet.

McPeek said Thorpedo Anna could be headed to the Acorn Stakes (GI) on June 7, and noted that he would have reservations against running her in the Belmont Stakes against Mystik Dan. 

“I couldn’t have Brian riding both horses,” he said.

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