Family Lineage May Have Cast a Winning Spell with Mage

In 2018, eventual Triple Crown winner Justify foiled Good Magic's bid to become the third horse to capture the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1). Five years on, it was Verifying, a member of the first crop of Justify, who was a major factor in establishing a rapid pace that enabled Good Magic's son, Mage, to close from 16th, 13 1/4 lengths off the pace, and claim the 2023 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. As with Justify, Mage had only made three previous starts. But unlike Justify, who was already an undefeated grade 1 winner and who left the post as the favorite for the first classic, Mage had yet to win a grade 1 event and was sent off at odds of 15-1. On reflection, that price was very good value. In the Florida Derby (G1), Mage finished just a length behind Forte—who was the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby and had kept that status through the advance wagering until he was scratched on the morning of the race due to a bruised foot. Prior to that, Mage had taken a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park Jan. 28 in a smart 1:22.54, and finished fourth behind Forte in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) after hitting the starting gate, then being rushed up five into a stalking position, before weakening late. Mage is from Good Magic's first crop, marking the second straight year that the Derby has fallen to a member of the first crop of a son of Curlin. Last year's winner Rich Strike, who also benefitted from a pace meltdown, is from the initial crop of Keen Ice. Mage is the ninth stakes winner to emerge from the initial group of foals by Good Magic, and the second grade one winner following last year's Champagne Stakes (G1) scorer Blazing Sevens. There are four other graded scorers: Reincarnate, who finished 13th in the Derby, having previously won the Sham Stakes (G3) and finished third in the Arkansas Derby (G1); the Sorrento Stakes (G2) victress Vegas Magic; Dubyuhnell, winner of the Remsen Stakes (G2); and the Iroquois Stakes (G3) captor Curly Jack. Good Magic himself pulled off something of a surprise when capturing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), which he took by 4 1/4 lengths over Solomini and the odds-on Bolt d'Oro. That was actually the first win of any description for Good Magic, who had been beaten a length in a maiden at Saratoga when making his debut, and then missed by half a length to Firenze Fire in the Champagne Stakes. He trained on at 3 to add the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1), and in his Triple Crown starts, he ran a previously mentioned second in the Kentucky Derby, and then fourth to Justify in the Preakness Stakes (G1) after a brave attempt to take the race to that horse in the early stages. Mage's dam, Puca, is a daughter of Big Brown, who coincidentally is the only horse other than Mage, Justify, and 1915's victorious filly Regret to win the Kentucky Derby having made just three previous starts. Puca scored a spectacular 16-length victory on dirt in a Belmont Park maiden special weight at 2, and also finished second in the Gazelle Stakes (G2) on that surface. After a distant 12th in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Puca ran only once more at 3 with another unplaced effort. Away for 18 months, Puca returned as a turf performer, and on that surface earned another three wins, including when gaining black-type by taking the Steve Pini Memorial Stakes at Suffolk Downs. Mage is her second foal, the first being the stakes-placed Gun Runner filly, Gunning. Puca is half sister to the prolific middle-distance turf horse Finnegans Wake, an earner of almost $1,600,000 with five graded stakes victories, including the Turf Classic Stakes (G1T) at Churchill Downs. Their dam, stakes-placed Boat's Ghost, is half sister to stakes winner Ooey Gooey and stakes-placed Father Wayne. Puca's granddam, Rocktheboat, is a multiple winner who is half sister to Griffin's Harbor, the granddam of stakes winner Okey Dokey Kyle and stakes-placed Smooth Chiraz. Rocktheboat is out of another multiple stakes winner, Native Boat, herself a half sister to four stakes horses, including stakes winner Double Devils Food. The family goes back to the noted broodmare, Style, a sister to Hopeful Stakes winner Traffic, and ancestress of nearly 50 stakes winners, including Badger's Coast and Surfing Home—both champions in South Africa—as well as Gay Style, Spit Curl, Eishin Deputy (JPN), and Floatyourboat (SAF). The family has been in North America since the 1870s, and Style's fourth dam, Bonus, is dam of Twenty Grand, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1931, and ancestress of a more recent classic winner in Afleet Alex, who was successful in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 2005. This family is the relatively rare D1b mtDNA haplotype (found in the female line of less than 2% of the population). Interestingly enough, Big Brown is also from this family, as is his broodmare sire, Nureyev, and he also carries Lt. Stevens, a brother to Nureyev's granddam, Thong. This suggests that Puca's offspring have a good shot of inheriting the "right" nuclear DNA for the D1b mtDNA irrespective of the stallion to which she is bred. We'll also note that Mage is bred on the pattern of crossing a stallion with a mare from his own broodmare sire line (here Danzig). Here the pattern is particularly similar to the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner, Country House, who is by Lookin At Lucky (by Good Magic's grandsire, Smart Strike, out of a mare by Danzig's son, Belong to Me), with a dam by a son of Danzig.