Kentucky Derby Review 2024: Mystik Dan The Man

Last updated May 26th, 2024

Mystik DanThe 150th Kentucky Derby was run under cloudy skies at Churchill Downs on May 4 but the thrilling finish lit up the track. A three-way photo eventually determined that Mystik Dan was the winner of the 2024 renewal by a nose. His victory gave trainer Kenny McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez an historic double as they also won the Kentucky Oaks on May 3 with Thorpedo Anna. She won by almost five lengths.

It took the stewards over two minutes to decide the Kentucky Derby finishing order, building the tension. Mystik Dan was an 18/1 shot and benefited from a superb, rail-hugging ride. He beat Chad Brown’s more fancied Blue Grass winner Sierra Leone (5/1) who was a nose ahead of the formerly unbeaten Japanese shipper, Forever Young (7/1). He was last seen winning the UAE Derby after taking the valuable group 3 Saudi Derby in February.

Mystik Dan was most recently witnessed getting beaten four lengths by Bob Baffert’s Muth in the Arkansas Derby. He was held up by Hernandez and stayed on well but could not get close to the leaders. Bettors could not be blamed for overlooking him after that performance.

A change in tactics and a superb trip were deciding factors. McPeek admitted the ride he got from Hernandez made the difference between winning and losing the Run for the Roses. Mystik Dan broke fast from gate three and initially took the lead but was headed within 200 yards by Steve Asmussen’s Track Phantom. His 41/1 shot was vigorously ridden from gate 11 by Joel Rosario to obtain his preferred position at the head of the pack.

Forever Young was in stall ten and jumped up as they opened, slowing his break. His jockey Ryusei Sakai sensibly decided to ignore the early battle for the pace in front of him and took a position towards the back. The half mile was run in 46.63. Track Phantom had grabbed the rail and was most closely pursued by Just Steel, the Wayne Lukas-trained 21/1 shot and Fierceness, Todd Pletcher’s Florida Derby winner and 16/5 Kentucky Derby favorite with the U.S. racebooks. Sierra Leone was close behind them under Tyler Gaffalione, running three wide.

The runners mostly maintained their places until they approached the stretch. Mystik Dan had been close to the rail throughout, just behind the leaders, and managed to squeeze through a small gap as Track Phantom weakened. He took the lead without wasting a yard and maintained it by the smallest of margins on the wire. Both Sierra Leone and Forever Young were forced to run wide on the final turn and had their own close-fought battle in pursuit of the leader. There was physical contact when Sierra Leone hung left and bumped Forever Young as they closed on Mystik Dan’s outside and appeared to be level right on the wire.

Whilst Hernandez received congratulations from all the right people for his superb ride, on May 10 the Kentucky Derby stewards fined Gaffalione $2,500 for “touching a rival with his left hand” in the stretch. There was no mention of his whip being in his left hand at the time. It appeared to make meaningful contact with the right shoulder of Forever Young too. Gaffalione blamed the incident on his left foot getting stuck behind Sakai’s right and a consequent loss of balance. The footage suggests that was very possible.

Hernandez was congratulated by his fellow jockeys after crossing the wire but was not convinced that he had won. He said that the wait for the announcement was the longest two minutes ever. After his success in the Kentucky Oaks, he thought that his 20 years of getting up early to ride were worthwhile. His hero, Calvin Borel, was the last jockey to win both the Kentucky Oaks and Derby in 2009.

The last trainer to achieve the double was Ben Jones in 1952.  McPeek was proud that he had done it in very different times without a mega budget. He bought Thorpedo Anna himself for $40,000 as a yearling from the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October Yearling Sale. Mystik Dan, a son of Goldencents, was homebred by the Gasaway and Hamby families out of Ma’am. This daughter of Colonel John won four minor races and was trained by McPeek for a time during her career.

Lance Gasaway was extremely shocked after Mystik Dan’s success. He had chosen an inexpensive sire for his unspectacular filly and together they had produced a champion. He described the feeling as surreal. He had reason to, the majority of Kentucky Derby winners are the result of a much greater financial investment.

Thorpedo Anna, a daughter of Fast Anna out of an Uncle Mo mare, was last seen winning the grade 2 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park by four lengths at the end of March. She started as the 9/2 second favorite in the Kentucky Oaks and beat the more popular 71/20 favorite, Bill Mott’s Just F Y I easily. This daughter of Justify came into the Oaks after taking the runner-up spot in the grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in early April.

What next for Mystik Dan and Thorpedo Anna?

On May 8 McPeek was happy with what he saw as Mystik Dan worked on the track at Churchill Downs for the first time since his win. He is certainly considering chasing the Triple Crown but will watch his star colt closely before deciding.

He openly admits that he will wait until the last day for entries in the Preakness. If Mystik Dan does get to run he is likely to face his Arkansas Derby adversary, Muth, in the line-up. Baffert is banned from Churchill Downs but not Pimlico.

McPeek is monitoring what he describes as a rash on Thorpedo Anna’s girth area, alert to the possibility that it could be ringworm. She also worked for the first time since her win and went through the same routine as Mystik Dan, giving McPeek an opportunity to assess her movement at a jog and at a gallop. He was reassured that she worked with her customary aggression and at this point does not anticipate that ‘the rash’ will affect her preparation. She is being pointed at the Acorn Stakes on June 7 at Saratoga rather than taking on the colts in the Belmont Stakes on June 8. His aim is for her to be the champion three-year-old filly.

Mystik Dan may have to face tough opposition in the Preakness but Thorpedo Anna should be carefully considered if she takes part in the Acorn Stakes.