Horse Racing

Who Won the 2023 Kentucky Derby? Results of the 149th Run for the Roses

FanDuel Staff
FanDuel Staff
Who Won the 2023 Kentucky Derby? Results of the 149th Run for the Roses

The 149th Kentucky Derby was a thrilling race, and so was the road to that Kentucky Derby. Before you look ahead to the 2024 edition of the Run for the Roses, let’s look back on some of the highlights of the 2023 Kentucky Derby season.

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2023 Kentucky Derby

The 2023 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs was one of the best races of the year. The finish was exciting, and it was a great moment for anyone who enjoys watching horse racing or betting long shots. Mage, close to the rear early, came flying home in the lane to overtake Two Phil’s and win the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Verifying and Kingsbarns battled on an extremely sharp pace for the mile and a quarter distance: 22.35 seconds for the quarter mile, 45.73 seconds for the half. Mage, unhurried, waited toward the rear of the field while his foes lit up the stopwatches.

Two Phil’s, drafting in close range behind the leaders, got first run on the far turn, moving to the lead inside near the three eighths. Meanwhile, Mage was rallying on the outside, and had made it to the rear of midpack by then. He sustained his run while tipping into the lane in the seven path, engaged Two Phil’s near the furlong pole, led for good at the sixteenth, and edged away to win by a length in the end.

Kentucky Derby winner Mage was a 15-1 longshot in the race, and there were several reasons why. He had not raced at two, and his Kentucky Derby win made him just the third horse after Apollo and Justify to win the Kentucky Derby without winning as a juvenile. Mage won the Kentucky Derby in just the fourth race of his career, and his previous best finish in a stakes race was a second-place finish in the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park.

But, Mage had gotten good at the right time. He also had a sparkling pedigree for 1 ¼ miles: his sire Good Magic was second in the Kentucky Derby, his damsire Big Brown won the Run for the Roses in 2008, and his dam Puca is a half-sister to the durable long-distance turfer Finnegans Wake.

The race was the first Derby win for both his jockey, hall of fame rider Javier Castellano, and his trainer, Gustavo Delgado. They would go on to the Preakness Stakes two weeks later with a Triple Crown on the line, though ultimately Mage would finish third behind National Treasure in Baltimore.

2023 Road to the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby may be the goal, but the final race is not the only exciting moment related to the Kentucky Derby. Bettors and fans alike know that watching the Kentucky Derby prep races is not only good preparation for playing the Run for the Roses, but these races also present great betting opportunities and exciting moments of their own!

Read on to relive the most thrilling moments along the 2023 Road to the Kentucky Derby.

2023 Risen Star Stakes

Though Angel of Empire eventually went off the post-time favorite in the 2023 Kentucky Derby after the scratch of pre-race favorite Forte, he was unheralded through the early stages of his Kentucky Derby preparation. He started his career at Horseshoe Indianapolis, and in his first stakes race, he was a clear third behind Victory Formation in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn.

Trainer Brad Cox sent him to Fair Grounds for the Risen Star (G2) on February 18, 2023. The bettors dismissed him at 13-1, but the race proved to be his coming-out party.

He settled well off a contested pace from Determinedly and Harlocap, began to rally around the far turn, overhauled Two Phil’s midstretch along with Sun Thunder, and outfinished Sun Thunder in the lane to win by a length under jockey Luis Saez.

2023 Jeff Ruby Steaks

Even though the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park is run on Tapeta and not dirt, it has had an outsized importance in recent runnings of the Kentucky Derby. In 2022, long shot Rich Strike came out of a third-place finish in that race to win Churchill Downs’ signature race. And, in 2023, Two Phil’s came out of an impressive outing in the Jeff Ruby to run an excellent second in the Run for the Roses.

Though trainer Larry Rivelli has carved out a career full of horses winning gate to wire in Chicago, Two Phil’s showed off his versatility in this race. He chased in the middle of the field through the early stages while Funtastic Again carved out the fractions. Three wide on the far turn, Jareth Loveberry gave Two Phil’s his cue, and he responded with gusto. Two Phil’s and favored Major Dude engaged Funtastic Again into the lane.

Suddenly, it was a one-horse race. Two Phil’s began to clear off past the three sixteenths. He was 1 ½ lengths ahead with a furlong to go, and 5 ¼ lengths clear of Major Dude at the wire. He would still have to answer the dirt question at Churchill Downs, but he had answered the talent question resoundingly at Turfway.

2023 Arkansas Derby

Angel of Empire surprised many horseplayers when he won the Risen Star. His goal in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 1 at Oaklawn was to prove the Risen Star was no fluke. Bettors had mixed opinions: he was only the fourth betting choice behind Rocket Can, Reincarnate, and Red Route One.

And yet, in the race? Angel of Empire was even more impressive than he had been in Louisiana.

Angel of Empire settled comfortably toward the rear of midfield as Two Eagles River set a cozy pace. Flavien Prat hit the accelerator near the three eighths, and the son of Classic Empire responded emphatically with a circling bid. Near the quarter-mile mark Angel of Empire loomed outside the leader. At the three-sixteenths he had the lead for good, and crossed the wire 4 ¼ lengths clear of second-place long shot King Russell.

With that victory in the Arkansas Derby, Angel of Empire graduated from plucky new face to serious contender, and he would go on to finish third in the 2023 Kentucky Derby behind Mage and Two Phil’s.

2023 Florida Derby

The 2023 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream on April 1, 2023, was expected to be almost a formality: 2022 juvenile champion Forte, for trainer Todd Pletcher, was sent off as the 3-10 favorite in a full field of 12. However, the old adage is, “That’s why they run the race.” Forte may have won, but he had to draw on every bit of his class and stamina to get it done.

Fort Bragg set the early pace, with Forte racing wide toward the rear. Around the final turn, Forte was bottled up midfield as Mage uncorked a wide rally from the rear. Into the lane, it was Mage and Cyclone Mischief who bore down on Fort Bragg. At the furlong mark, it still looked like an impossible task for Forte, who had almost three lengths to make up on a strong-looking Mage.

And yet, Forte found enough. Looking every bit like the champion he was, he reeled in Mage in the final strides, hitting the wire a length in front. Mage had to settle for second that day…though, of course, at Churchill Downs, he was able to do one better!

2023 Santa Anita Derby

One of the most thrilling finishes on the 2023 Kentucky Derby trail happened on April 8, 2023, in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Practical Move, coming out of an open-length score in the San Felipe (G2), was sent off the odds-on favorite. However, he had company. National Treasure was a consistent contender in west-coast graded stakes, Skinner was on the rise, and Mandarin Hero was making his first start stateside after showing good form in Japan. It was the latter who, along with Practical Move, made this a Santa Anita Derby for the ages.

One in Vermillion, the longest shot in the field, made the early running. Practical Move was in range, tucked inside of National Treasure. He gradually improved up the inside, and engaged One In Vermillion in earnest near the three-eighths.

Approaching the turn for home, Skinner rallied on the outside. Mandarin Hero rallied inside, and had to alter out when Practical Move shifted right out in front of him in upper stretch. Despite that trouble, Mandarin Hero made the better run on Practical Move, bearing down between horses. Mandarin Hero ran too good to lose, but at the wire, it was Practical Move by a nose.

Practical Move would have been one of the pre-race favorites in the Kentucky Derby, but was scratched the week of the race. Mandarin Hero did contest the Kentucky Derby, drawing in off of the also-eligible list, but could not sustain a rally after being bumped on the far turn. He crossed the wire twelfth.

2023 Wood Memorial

One of the biggest surprises on the 2023 Kentucky Derby trail happened April 8, 2023, at Aqueduct in the Wood Memorial (G2). Despite finishing only sixth behind Rocket Can in the Holy Bull (G3) and fifth behind Tapit Trice in the Tampa Bay Derby, trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. shipped him up to New York for another crack at the Kentucky Derby.

Third time was a charm.

Coming off of those two Florida races, Lord Miles was dismissed by the public at 59-1, the third-longest shot of twelve horses in the Wood. However, he was a factor from the outset. Breaking from a middle gate, he was in close behind pacesetter Arctic Arrogance, just ahead of heavily favored Hit Show.

It looked like he was beginning to flatten around the far turn, but when Hit Show began to rally, Lord Miles shifted out of neutral. Dreamlike got the jump on that pair, but both Hit Show and Lord Miles continued their rally in the lane, making it a three-horse battle to the finish line. At the outside of the group, Lord Miles found the most, getting up by a nose over Hit Show, who was in turn just a head in front of Dreamlike.

Lord Miles was scratched from the Kentucky Derby. Hit Show did make it into the starting gate, and finished a clear fifth behind Mage on Derby day.

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