Mystik Dan the Favorite To Win Preakness Following Muth Scratch

The Kentucky Derby winner seeks the second leg of the Triple Crown.

AP/Julio Cortez
The Kentucky Derby winner, Mystik Dan, works out ahead of the 149th running of the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, May 16, 2024, at Baltimore. The horse is expected to compete in the Belmont Stakes. AP/Julio Cortez

With pre-race favorite Muth scratched by a spiking fever, the spotlight at Saturday’s 149th Preakness Stakes is squarely on the Kentucky Derby winner, Mystik Dan, as he attempts to capture the second leg of the coveted Triple Crown.

An 18-1 long shot, Mystik Dan beat Sierra Leone and Japanese-bred Forever Young by a nose in a thrilling photo finish two weeks ago at Churchill Downs. The 3-year-old trained by Kenny McPeek is now the favorite for the $2 million race at the mile and 3/16th Pimlico Race Course at Baltimore. The post time is 6:50 p.m. EDT.

The Bob Baffert-trained Muth, winner of the Arkansas Derby, where Mystik Dan finished third, was scratched on Wednesday when his temperature reached 103 degrees, two to three degrees higher than normal for a horse.

Mystik Dan is a 5-2 favorite with Muth out, according to CBS Sports, with Catching Freedom and Imagination at 6-1. Tuscan Gold is 8-1, while Seize the Grey and Just Steel are 15-1. Mugatu and Uncle Henry are 20-1.

“It’s still not an easy race,” Mr. McPeek told reporters at Pimlico. “There’s no guarantees. It’s a pretty humbling sport.”

Mystik Dan drew the no. 5 post, while Catching Freedom, trained by Brad Cox, starts out of no. 3. Imagination, trained by Mr. Baffert, gates at no. 9. The two D. Wayne Lucas entries, Seize the Grey and Just Steel, are side by side out of no. 6 and no. 7, respectively. Tuscan Gold, trained by Chad Brown, opens out of No. 8. Long-shots Mugatu, trained by Jeff Engler, and Uncle Heavy, trained by Robert Reid Jr., drew the no. 1 and 2 posts, respectively.

The race originally shaped up as a rematch of the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on March 30, when Muth looked strong and powerful, dominating down the stretch. Just Steel finished second, while Mystik Dan was a distant third. Muth, who is owned by Zendan Racing Stables, did not run in the Kentucky Derby due to Mr. Baffert’s suspension at Churchill Downs stemming from Medina Spirit’s failed drug test after winning the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Mr. Baffert, 71, still has Imagination, second to Stronghold at the Santa Anita Derby, in the race and is looking for a record-extending ninth victory in the Preakness, including last year with National Treasure.

“I’ve been so lucky that I can’t remember one that went to a big race like this and that got sick,” Mr. Baffert told reporters, speaking from California. “I’ve always worried about it. I’ve seen other people’s horses get sick. Every year, I see something different.”

Questions loom about whether Mystik Dan has fully recovered from the dramatic Run for the Roses. After his maiden win on November 12 at Churchill Downs, he finished fifth two weeks later in an allowance race at Churchill. Mr. Brown is resting Sierra Leone for the Belmont at Saratoga, while Forever Young returned to Japan. Yet Mr. McPeek has pronounced the Derby winner ready for the Preakness.

“Right now we’ve got everything in line,” Mr. McPeek said. “We’re going to leave it up to [jockey] Brian [Hernandez]. It’s about feel out there. It’s not about what I tell him to do. I think that’s why we do well because he usually makes the right decision.”

Catching Freedom, the Louisiana Derby winner with Flavien Prat aboard, was fourth at the Kentucky Derby, a length behind the photo-finishers. He is a closer, who always seems to be in the mix. Tuscan Gold was third at the Louisiana Derby and could give Mr. Brown his third Preakness win.

“I think Catching Freedom trained really well going into the Derby,” Mr. McPeek said. “When anybody asked me, he was one of them I thought would run well.”

Don’t overlook Mr. Lucas’s two entries: Just Steel burned out early in the Kentucky Derby and finished 17th after closing an impressive second at the Arkansas Derby. Affectionately known as the Coach, Mr. Lucas said the Kentucky Derby wasn’t indicative of the horse’s talent. “We got into a speed jam and there was no way he could finish and do well,” Mr. Lucas, who is a six-time winner of the Preakness, said. “That happens in racing, and you have to be careful you don’t penalize a horse for one race like that.”

Seize the Gray won the Pat Day Mile (G2) on the undercard of the Kentucky Derby and is running his fourth race in 56 days. “I love the way he ran [two weeks ago],” Mr. Lucas said. “He was finishing strong at the end. I have no reservations about the added distance of the Preakness. He’s going to keep everybody honest.”

All eyes will be on Mystik Dan trying to become the eighth horse since 2000 to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown.  “It’s not a given,” Mr. McPeek said. “We’ve got to run a good race.”

The Sun’s Preakness picks:
1.     Catching Freedom
2.     Mystik Dan
3.     Imagination
4.     Tuscan Gold


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