Bobby Zen

The field for the GI Preakness S., ranked in “likeliest winner” order:

1) MYSTIK DAN (c, Goldencents-Ma’am, by Colonel John). O/B-Lance Gasaway, Daniel Hamby & 4G Racing, LLC (Ky); T-Kenneth G. McPeek. Lifetime Record: GISW, 7-3-1-1, $3,650,050. Last start: WON May 4 GI Kentucky Derby.

The Derby champ will go favored in the Preakness on Saturday after the scratch of ‘TDN Rising Star’ Muth (Good Magic). This son of Goldencents upset the first leg of the Triple Crown at 18-1 odds.

In the last three Derbies, three very different types of colts (Rich Strike, Mage, Mystik Dan) have won after executing perfect trips that not only demonstrated the deft skills of their jockeys, but the role that racing luck plays in determining which holes or seams in a 20-horse pack open to allow passage to the winner’s circle.

And while the last two Derby winners failed to win again at any level, there are plenty of upsetters who won at inflated mutuels in Louisville, then rolled into Baltimore and won again at much lower odds, in part because their Derby victories didn’t take all that much out of them.

Despite having to fight hard to win a three-horse photo, Mystik Dan could end up being just that type of colt.

It the Derby, Mystik Dan broke on top and led through the first sixteenth before Brian Hernandez, Jr. conceded the lead and opted to rate at the rail, solidly surrounded by horses. Mystik Dan edged up five furlongs out, made it to within two lengths of the leaders a half-mile from home, then raced “on hold” through the far turn with no openings available to tip out.

Off the far turn, Hernandez made his own space with a bold, now-or-never move, blasting through at the fence by shouldering aside a caving Track Phantom (Quality Road). Mystik Dan briefly opened up by two lengths three-sixteenths out, and although he was tiring in the final furlong with two onrushing closers threatening to swallow him up, this colt dug in and never quit, surviving a three-way bob.

One concern about running back on two weeks’ rest is that earlier this year, trainer Kenny McPeek was on record as saying that Mystik Dan does better with more spacing between his races. But McPeek also purposely skipped a prep race between Mystik Dan’s eight-length blowout in the Feb. 3 GIII Southwest S. and a trip-troubled third in the Mar. 30 Arkansas Derby, with the stated goal of bypassing the GII Feb. 24 Rebel S. to “give us a little more confidence to come back in the Preakness.”

Over the past week McPeek has disclosed that Mystik Dan–whom he has repeatedly described as a “smart” horse all season long–has been thriving since winning the Derby, and that all of his diagnostics (scoping, bloodwork, hydration and inflammation markers) have come back normal, accompanied by a robust appetite.

The bottom line is that while Mystik Dan might look a little vulnerable on paper, you should think twice about betting against one of the more sensible, respected conditioners in the sport.

According to DRF’s Formulator, over the past five years McPeek’s winning percentage with horses running back in 13-15 days is 16% (20-for-129), which is actually two percentage points higher than his overall strike rate of 14% (369-for-2,571).

Tuscan Gold | The Stronach Group

2) TUSCAN GOLD (c, Medaglia d’Oro-Valadorna by Curlin). O-William H Lawrence, Walmac Farm & Stonestreet Stables LLC; B-Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC (KY) ‘TDN Rising Star.’ T-Chad Brown. Sales history: $600,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: 3-1-0-1, $147,100. Last start: 3rd Mar. 23 GII Louisiana Derby.

Trainer Chad Brown’s previous two Preakness winners were both colts with three starts who had bypassed the Derby. Tuscan Gold fits that profile too, but he differs from Cloud Computing (2017) and Early Voting (2022) in that he’s coming into the second leg of the Triple Crown off an eight-week hiatus instead of six.

At 8-5, Tuscan Gold debuted as the heavier-favored of two Brown entrants in what turned out to be a “loaded” one-turn-mile MSW at Aqueduct Nov. 4. But while 4-1 stablemate Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) ended up winning that afternoon, earning ‘TDN Rising Star’ status, Tuscan Gold got a decent education out of the effort, absorbing bumping at the break that put him at the back of the pack before gaining five wide on the turn. He rallied to chase the top two before being outkicked late and finishing fourth.

This son of Medaglia d’Oro garnered his own ‘Rising Star’ honors in start number two at Gulfstream Jan. 31, which was an off-pace, driving, short-stretch-configuration win going 1 1/16 miles.

Start number three was when Tuscan Gold first started to get noticed as a potential “wiseguy” contender for a Triple Crown race. Drawn wide in post 10 of the GII Louisiana Derby, he was four wide on both turns while ambitiously up close to a moderate pace, and he unleashed a nice rally between the three-sixteenths and sixteenths poles before getting collared by two deep closers. Tuscan Gold ended up third, galloping out well and getting credited with a 95 Beyer Speed Figure.

Tuscan Gold didn’t make the qualifying points cut for the Kentucky Derby. He was entered in last Saturday’s GIII Peter Pan S. at Aqueduct, but Brown scratched him to run in the Preakness and was subsequently impressed with the colt’s final pre-Preakness workout.

3) CATCHING FREEDOM (c, Constitution-Catch My Drift, by Pioneerof the Nile). O-Albaugh Family Stables LLC; B-WinStar Farm (Ky); T-Brad Cox. Sales History: $575,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-3-0-1, $1,127,350. Last start: 4th May 4 GI Kentucky Derby.

In the Derby, Catching Freedom got shuffled first time through the lane from post four, raced midpack near the inside, found a good far-turn spot at the fence to use as his late-race launch point, then followed the eventual winner up the rail.

True to form, this colt tried hard through the final furlong. But Catching Freedom lacked the extra spark that would have put him on even terms with the front three in the run to the wire. He stayed on for fourth, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths.

Catching Freedom | Jim McCue

Catching Freedom earned a 97 Beyer, matching his winning number from the Louisiana Derby.

Being a medium-framed stayer who doesn’t seem to impose a pounding on himself contributed to trainer Brad Cox’s decision to go on with him to Baltimore.

But Catching Freedom also lends the impression that he’s not going to suddenly reveal any new tactical wizardry in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. He resonates as a reliable, what-you-see-is-what-you-get closer. And that one sustained run doesn’t earn him a blanket of Black-Eyed Susans without a little help from a Preakness pace meltdown on the front end.

4) IMAGINATION (c, Into Mischief-Magical Feeling, by Empire Maker). O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Dianne Bashor, Robert Masterson, Waves Edge Capital LLC, Catherine Donovan & Tom Ryan; B-Peter Blum Thoroughbreds (KY); T-Bob Baffert. Sales history: $1,050,000 yrl ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-2-3-0, $406,800. Last start: 2nd Apr. 6 GI Santa Anita Derby.

The speed-centric Imagination has some appeal from the perspective that he has five races of experience around two turns, and in each of his last three races at Santa Anita he’s engaged in prolonged stretch fights. Even though he lost two of those tussles, he’s never been beaten by more than a neck at a mile or longer.

The reason why this Into Mischief colt isn’t ranked higher is that despite always being in the hunt until deep into his races, I can’t quite figure out if he’s a resilient sort who punches back when headed, or if he just likes to spar without sealing the deal. In each of his last two losses he held the lead in deep stretch but let a re-rallying rival get by him.

Having said that, there are other aspects of Imagination’s way of going could align to produce a big effort on Saturday.

In the GI Santa Anita Derby, he forced the issue through a quick opening quarter (:22.72), made two moves at the leader on the far turn, then held the lead for most of the stretch while taking pressure from eventual winner Stronghold (Ghostzapper).

But then again, the Santa Anita Derby wasn’t a particularly fast race. Stronghold (who finished seventh in the Derby) and Imagination (who has been unraced since Apr. 6) shared 89 Beyers. And the :25.98 split for the fourth quarter of that stakes was the slowest clocking for a fourth quarter out of all nine 1 1/8-miles prep stakes on the Kentucky Derby qualifying calendar this season.

The scratch of stablemate Muth brings this likely pacemaker one gate closer to the inside from his outermost-drawn post assignment.

5) JUST STEEL (c, Justify-Irish Lights {Aus}, by Fastnet Rock {Aus}). O-BC Stables, LLC; B-Summerhill Farm (Ky); T-D. Wayne Lukas. Sales History: $500,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISP, 11-2-4-1, $724,545. Last start: 17th May 4 GI Kentucky Derby.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has described Just Steel as a big, robust colt who not only can withstand the rigors of frequent racing, but needs that seasoning to round into the performer that Lukas believes he can be.

The Preakness will be Just Steel’s 13th lifetime start, tied for the most in the field along with Mugatu (Blofeld).

This son of Justify got bumped at the break of the Derby, engaged in a three-way duel, then capitulated to finish 17th.

Lukas’s assessment was that Just Steel was uncharacteristically aggressive in Louisville, and he indicated that he’d like to see a performance more along the lines of the colt’s runner-up effort in the GI Arkansas Derby two starts back.

In that Oaklawn stakes, Just Steel was always near the pace despite going four wide on the first turn, and he maintained a persistent (but not electrifying) run through the lane to finish capably behind the well-regarded Muth.

Just Steel will also reunite with jockey Joel Rosario, who was aboard in the colt’s 2-year-old season for his only two victories, over distances of 6- and 6 1/2-furlongs.

Seize the Gray | Coady Media

6) SEIZE THE GREY (c, Arrogate-Smart Shopping by Smart Strike). O-MyRacehorse; B-Jamm, Ltd. (KY); T-D. Wayne Lukas. Sales History: $300,000 Ylg ’22 FTSAUG). Lifetime Record: GSW, 9-3-0-3, $619,938. Last tart: WON May 4 GII Pat Day Mile S.

Seize the Grey stalked in a tight pack behind quick fractions (:22.12, :44;59, 1:09.48), came with a four-wide bid, survived some bumping, and split foes to upset the GII Pat Day Mile S. at 9-1 odds on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

He earned an 88 Beyer, his lifetime best over a nine-race career that has spanned from 5 1/2 to nine furlongs.

Prior to that he was a no-impact seventh in the GI Blue Grass S. at Keeneland and had run third with a wide bid over Tapeta in the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S. at Turfway.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will be saddling his 47th and 48th Preakness starters on Saturday, a race that he has won six times.

The last time Lukas won was in 2013 with the 15-1 Oxbow. One of the horses he beat that day was Goldencents, the sire of Mystik Dan.

7) UNCLE HEAVY (c, Social Inclusion-Expect Wonderful, by Tiz Wonderful). O-Michael Milam and LC Racing LLC; B-Barbara Reid (PA); T-Robert E Reid Jr. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-3-0-0, $323,580. Last start: 5th Apr. 6 GII Wood Memorial S.

Uncle Heavy, a stout-framed colt befitting of his name, was hooked four- and three-wide around both turns of the GIII Withers S. back on Feb. 3. He advanced into third but still looked beaten 100 yards out, then closed with a surge to bob for the photo, earning both the win and an 84 Beyer.

This Pennsylvania-bred son of Social Inclusion next attempted the GII Wood Memorial S. Apr. 6, but was a no-factor fifth after being parked in twelfth for the early stages of the race. He managed a seven-wide rally that picked off half the field, and although he raced alongside a horse who fell in upper stretch, the spill didn’t directly affect his momentum.

Uncle Heavy will get a jockey change to Irad Ortiz, Jr. for the Preakness.

8) MUGATU (Blofeld-Union Way, by Union Rags). O-Average Joe Racing Stables, Ltd. and Dan Wells. B-JSM Equine, LLC (Ky); T-Jeff Engler. Sales History: $14,000 ’23 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: 12-1-1-3, $80,570. Last start: 5th in GI Blue Grass S.

Mugatu | Jim McCue

Mugatu was on the also-eligible list for the Derby but failed to draw in. He sports only a maiden victory from 12 starts, and if he upsets the Preakness, it will mark exactly six months since his only other trip to the winner’s circle, in a mile and 70-yard Tapeta try at Gulfstream.

Joe Bravo rode him that day, and will be aboard again in Baltimore after not having ridden Mugatu since.

In his last start, Mugatu finished fifth in the Blue Grass S. at 181-1 odds.

The most optimistic line in Mugatu’s recent form was actually an eighth-place try, in which he was only beaten 2 1/2 lengths, in the Rushaway S. over Tapeta at Turfway two starts back.

The winner of the Rushaway, Trikari (Oscar Performance), orchestrated a 47-1 shocker in the GII American Turf S. on the Derby undercard two weeks ago.

The bulk of Mugatu’s racing experience has been on turf or Tapeta. His only three tries on dirt have yielded fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishes.

The post TDN Preakness Preview: Muth’s Scratch Plays In Favor of Derby Hero Mystik Dan appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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