Middletown couple asks ‘Was this all a dream?’ after Mage wins Kentucky Derby

Mage, at 15-1, pulls off a stunner Saturday night during 149th race at Churchill Downs.

Twelve hours after Mage, a 15-1 longshot, won the 149th running of Kentucky Derby Saturday at Churchill Downs, Helen Stevens-Gleason asked her husband, Rick Stevens-Gleason: “Did we still win the Derby or was this all a dream?”

The Middletown couple, avid horse racing fans, own 200 shares of Mage, though they didn’t want to disclose how much they invested in the 3-year-old horse.

While more than 150,000 fans packed Churchill Downs on a sunshine-splashed day and millions more watched on TV and in sports books around the world, Rick and Helen, both small in statue, had trouble seeing the race.

Helen said they watched from a second-row box near the finish line, but because they couldn’t see over the people standing in front of them, it was impossible to see Mage.

Helen said she remembers hearing the track announcer, at one time early in the race, saying Mage was in 15th place out of the 18 horses. Then the announcer said Mage was “making a move” at the top of the stretch.

Mage covered the 1 1/4 mile race in 2.01.57 over a fast track, one length ahead of Two Phil’s. Still, the couple wasn’t sure Mage won because of the angle of the Jumbotron.

“I think he did,” Rick told his wife.

“Did he or didn’t he?” she asked.

The couple finally made their way through the crowd to the winner’s circle to celebrate with the jockey, Javier Castellano, trainer Gustavo Delgado and the rest of the owners in the syndicate. She described the scene as “complete craziness.”

Castellano pulled a red rose out of the blanket that covered Mage and handed it to Helen. She placed the rose in the mouth and did a little Derby dance.

While in the winner’s circle, she met Jeff Ruby, the Cincinnati restaurateur. Helen thanked him for his support of thoroughbred racing and for his successful restaurants.

When he asked how she knew about his restaurants, she said they live in Middletown and have eaten at Jeff Ruby’s. That’s when Ruby said he got his start in the restaurant business cooking at the Holiday Inn in Middletown.

“We’re still on Cloud Nine,” she said Monday morning. “Exhausted. It’s been a whirlwind.”

She was reminded that last week she said winning the Derby would be a “dream come true.”

“It was more than a dream come true,” she said on Monday.

When asked whether the Derby was the biggest win in their thoroughbred racing career, she never hesitated.

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Helen, an elementary teacher who retired after 40 years in the Franklin School District. “Absolutely.”

Now Mage, with two wins in four career starts, has a chance to win the Triple Crown, the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Helen said the owners are talking about entering Mage in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness May 20 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.

Mage paid $32.42, $14.58 and $9.08. Two Phil’s paid $10.44 and $6.52 and Angel of Empire paid .$4.70 to show.

The couple bet on Mage to win, though they didn’t want to disclose how much. Helen said they’re giving the money to the Church of the Ascension in Middletown, and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

They drove home Sunday morning in time for church, she said.

Churchill Downs announced that wagering from all sources was the highest all-time on the Kentucky Derby race, the Kentucky Derby Day program, and Kentucky Derby Week races.

Wagering from all sources on the Kentucky Derby Day program set a record of $288.7 million, beating last year’s record of $273.8 million. All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Derby race was a record of $188.7 million, beating the previous record of $179.0 million set in 2022. All-sources handle for Derby Week rose to a record of $412.0 million, beating last year’s record of $391.8 million.

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