The toughest match for a big dream is a hard budget.
Ramiro Restrepo and Gustavo Delgado Jr. came to Timonium last May with a mission to get one of the region’s most promising 2-year-old horse racing prospects. They even narrowed their wishlist down: a filly and a colt, both children of Good Magic — who once clipped the heels of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.
But their dreams were running up against their budget. They had hoped to nail down both, but that ambition quickly evaporated as the price for the colt alone shot up to more than a quarter of a million dollars. Against the company of horse racing’s most well-monied circles, they were relatively anonymous and sorting through Good Magic’s first crop of children to deliver them a breakout prospect.
So: Lean back and wait until next year for a more affordable horse? Or empty the wallet and get the colt?
Restrepo — a Miami Hurricanes football fan — likened it to a quarterback feeling the heat of an all-out blitz squeezing the pocket.
“There’s a lot of learned things as far as body types and genetic makeup that you learn,” he told The Banner. “But also at the end of it, your gut feeling and your instinct — that’s an innate quality that when the time comes … you make that decision.”
The decision: buy. And, boy, has that paid off.
The colt has netted his hopeful owners more than $2 million in earnings — we last saw Mage making a backstretch charge at Churchill Downs to win the Kentucky Derby.
The 8-5 favorite to win the Preakness Stakes very nearly slipped through Restrepo’s and Delgado’s fingers at that auction, the Midlantic May 2-Year-Olds in Training sale held by Fasig-Tipton once a year at the Timonium track. There are currently four listed children of Good Magic up for auction at this year’s sale, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday – and it’s a good bet they could go for more than the $290,000 that Mage’s owners (who also include Sterling Racing LLC and CMNWLTH) paid last spring.
The Good Magic brand is likely to see a significant boost no matter what happens this weekend at Pimlico. Of the eight horses in the field, three — including 6-1 Blazing Sevens and 15-1 Perform — are sons of Good Magic. Podium finishes for any of the trio (or all of them) are going to see future Good Magic stock (not to mention his stud fees) get a bump. In March, one of Good Magic’s colts was bought for a record-tying $2 million at a Florida auction.
Bidders at these sales get a few clues as to what they’re buying: a workout, a gallop-out and other physical characteristics that hint at a future champion. Restrepo, 44, has a practiced eye trained by decades of watching horses run. But he didn’t need to delve into the subtleties on Mage — the similarities with his Breeder’s Cup-winning dad walloped him over the head right away.
“I’m talking about same height, same weight, same bone structure, same rhythm, same cadence in their action,” Restrepo said. “Even down to the markings in his face — I mean, he’s a clone of his father.”
If not for Justify, Good Magic might have been a big winner on the Triple Crown circuit. He finished second in the 2018 Derby and fourth in the Preakness. He was a hard charger who led segments of both races and was himself finely bred of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin. Instead of the acclaim of horse racing’s biggest wins, he was forced to settle for a quiet life on a plush farm in Kentucky, going out to stud for $50,000 a pop.
Blazing Sevens is trained by Chad Brown, who presided over last year’s winner, Early Voting. Shug McGaughey, another Hall of Fame member, trains Perform.
Delgado turned Mage over to his father, Venezuelan-born trainer Gustavo Delgado Sr. Although he’s experienced success, the Derby win was the pinnacle of his career by far. It helps that Mage came with a naturally sound temperament.
“He’s a very quiet horse, pretty chill about pretty much anything,” Delgado Jr. told reporters this week. “Sometimes they are talented but they don’t have the mind — they get pretty much excited about anything. But this horse seems to have it all.”
As rewarding as it is to win the first jewel of the Triple Crown, many Derby champions have found the second much tougher to get. A huge challenge is the two-week turnaround — roughly half the recovery most trainers would like for their 3-year-olds before they run another mile-plus sprint. It is telling that Mage is the only Derby runner in the field Saturday.
That was a decision that Restrepo did not leave to his gut.
“Selfishly, we wanted to go [to Preakness], but we don’t speak horse,” he said. “Those who watch him 24-7 do.”
So they did workouts, checked his physical health and watched for his enthusiasm to run again, a surprisingly important component in a Triple Crown race. Delgado acknowledged there would have been less pressure to run Preakness if Mage had not won, but he also said the evaluation process was focused on his well-being and temperament.
“I haven’t paid too much attention to who is running, who is not,” he said. “That happens when you win. You focus on the horse and keeping him happy, because you’re the favorite.”
Now the chestnut colt looks to be the headliner in a week organizers and racing enthusiasts hope will be clear of the cloud that hung over Churchill Downs, with seven horses dying leading up to and on the day of the Derby.
So far it’s been quiet at Pimlico, which is probably a good thing. By Mage’s stall, his team has tacked up a sign asking fans for calm so he can run his best. He’ll have to run down two of his half-brothers to keep his odds-defying chase of a Triple Crown going.
A reporter asked Delgado Jr. if he had been thinking about the other horses in the field, especially the other sons of Good Magic.
“Just Mage,” he laughed. “The right one.”