Kentucky Derby 150 sees people repeat history

May 05, 2024 at 11:57 am by Danny Brewer

  The world history department at Smyrna High School years ago featured an extremely good educator named Al Wilkerson. Mr. Wilkerson was a man that commanded respect and rightfully so. He had a saying that has stuck with me these many moons after I made it through his class (D was for diploma). He said “History doesn’t repeat itself…people repeat history”. After the historic 150th running of the Kentucky Derby it dawned on me that once again Al Wilkerson was right. Let me expound…

  Mystik Dan’s thrilling run as an 18-1 shot was legendary to say the least. Finding the wire first by a flaring nostril, this son of Goldencents executed the gameplan to perfection. His two-legged team mates, however,  are the focus of this tale.

  First there is jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. Hailing from Louisiana, this veteran Churchill Downs rider was quick to point to one of his pony-riding predecessors as a guiding force behind this year’s victory.

  “Being from Louisiana I grew up watching Calvin Borel and how he won Derbies with daring rides aboard Super Saver and Mine That Bird”, says Hernandez Jr., who registered his first Kentucky Derby win. “I knew we were in the 3 hole so I decided let’s roll the dice.”

  Indeed this crafty Cajun did roll dem bones as he skimmed the rail throughout the entire trip on May 4. Pulling a classic Borel Bayou Shaboo as the horses turned for home, Hernandez Jr. saw an opening inside and booted Dan through a narrow opening along the rail. Using an amazing turn of foot, Mystik accelerated past them all and held off his pursuers at the wire.

  Trainer Kenny McPeek has long been one of the most respected conditioners in the game. Just the day before he had sent Thorpedo Anna to the winner’s circle in the 150th running of the Kentucky Oaks. Winning big races is never easy and the Oaks and Kentucky Derby are really difficult because of the fact these are the apples in nearly every horseman’s eye. No trainer had been able to pull this off since 1952 when Ben Jones won with Real Delight (Oaks) and Hill Gail (Derby). Of course things are much tougher now as the pool of talent and number of entrants are a lot larger. But as a believer in himself and his team while being a real student of the game, McPeek had a grasp on what others long before him had done.

  “To be in the same sentence as Ben Jones is simply WOW for me”, says McPeek. “Growing up in Lexington I remember when my grandfather took me to the track at Keeneland and I would spend time in the Keeneland library reading about the sport. I believe in positive energy and for three weeks I felt like we were going to win both races and put ourselves in the history books.”


  The last of the two-legged team are owners Sharilyn and Lance Gasaway. Yes, Thoroughbred racing is the sport of kings, but this stage is not always about the blue bloods. Race runner-up Sierra Leone was a $2.3 million dollar purchase as a yearling, Mystik Dan was foaled by the Gasaway owned Ma’am after a minimal stud fee. This scenario evoked memories of California Chrome in 2014 when a similar scenario unfolded for the Dumb Ass Partners ownership group.

  “I am pinching myself to try and figure out if this is real”, says Lance Gasway. “We just won the biggest race in America with a horse that was foaled by our mare after a $10,000 stud fee. Who would have ever dreamed it”.

  Now that we have proven Al Wilkerson right once again here is the final takeaway. The history chapters in the book we call the Kentucky Derby are sometimes the same and sometimes a little different but there is always one thing that remains the same… the undeniable magic on the first Saturday in May that has existed for 150 years.  

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