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Mystik Dan wins 2024 Kentucky Derby, beating Sierra Leone in a photo finish

Mystik Dan wins 2024 Kentucky Derby, beating Sierra Leone in a photo finish

Lightly regarded Mystik Dan scored a thrilling upset at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, winning by a nose and bringing a career Triple Crown to trainer Kenny McPeek.

Rail-riding Mystik Dan stuck his snout in front of second favorite Sierra Leone and Forever Young for the dramatic three-horse photo-finish victory that took several minutes to hash out.

He was listed at 20-1 on the morning line and fans showed a little bit more faith in him, betting him down to 18-1 by the start.

“I wasn’t sure if we had won,” jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. told NBC Sports shortly after the race. “So it was quite a rush to sit here and wait for it.”

Mystik Dan came to Louisville with a relatively thin resume that included a third-place finish at the Arkansas Derby and a win at the Grade III Southwest Stakes.

It was the first Derby triumph for both McPeek and Hernandez. McPeek had previously trained filly Swiss Skydiver, the 2020 Preakness Stakes champion, and Sarava, long-shot winner of the 2002 Belmont Stakes.

Brian Hernandez Jr. rides Mystik Dan, right, to the finish line to win the 2024 Kentucky Derby.Brynn Anderson / AP

The Derby win capped a remarkable 24 hours for McPeek and Hernandez, who teamed up with Thorpedo Anna to win the Kentucky Oaks on Friday.

McPeek effusively praised Hernandez and his ride.

“Just a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, jockey and ride,” the trainer said. “Brian’s amazing.”

Mystik Dan covered the 1¼-mile course in 2:03.34.

The 3-1 favorite, Fierceness, came in 15th in the 20-horse field.

Hernandez, the son of a jockey and sibling of two other riders, recalled riding his bike as a 6-year-old, telling anyone who’d listen that someday he’d be a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey.

“This is a lifetime achievement,” Hernandez said. “This goes to our whole family.”

Mystik Dan might have benefited from Sierra Leone and Forever Young bumping several times down the stretch as they desperately tried to down the leader and eventual winner.

“Oftentimes it’s a game of inches,” said Chad Brown, Sierra Leone’s trainer.

Brown said he was pleased with his horse’s run Saturday, despite coming up a nose short.

“I’m so proud of his effort today. The horse did everything we asked him to do,” Brown said. “It just came up just a little bit short.”

Mystik Dan’s Triple Crown quest will continue on May 18 with the 149th running of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

Before Saturday’s 12th race at Churchill Downs unfolded, celebrities and big hats filled the clubhouse, grandstands and paddock under Louisville’s famed twin spires.

Mystik Dan at Churchill Downs on May 1.Charlie Riedel / AP

Wynonna Judd performed the national anthem, leading a stable of boldface names from the entertainment world such as Sheryl Lee Ralph, Chris Tucker, Kid Rock, Jack Harlow, Jimmy Fallon, Travis Tritt, Josh Groban, Holly Robinson Peete and Richie Sambora.

Lifestyle maven Martha Stewart and football figures such as dateless Travis Kelce, Aaron Rodgers, Jameis Winston, Isiah Pacheco and Emmitt Smith were also in attendance.

Stewart gave the “riders up” call for jockeys to take their mounts.

The Derby day also included a host of other big-money races.

Long shot Trikari rallied to a thrilling upset victory in the American Turf Stakes. The 47-1 dark horse roared past favorite Formidable Man in the final strides of the $600,000 race.

Gun Pilot pulled away to victory at the $1 million Churchill Downs Stakes, adding to the long winning resume of trainer Steve Asmussen.

Program Trading edged Naval Power to dramatically win the $1 million Turf Classic Stakes.

Seize The Grey won the $600,000 Pat Day Mile Stakes.

Chili Flag took the $750,000 Churchill Distaff Turk Miles Stakes.

Vahva rallied late to win the $100,000 Derby City Distaff.

Cogburn raced to victory at the $600,000 Turf Sprint Stakes.

David K. Li

David K. Li is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

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