Kentucky Derby Hero Mystik Dan Now Likely Favorite for Preakness 149

Kentucky Derby Hero Mystik Dan Now Likely Favorite for Preakness 149

Muth Scratched from Middle Jewel of Triple Crown Due to Temperature
Cox Happier with Decision to Enter Catching Freedom in Preakness
Tuscan Gold ‘Really Happy’ While Training for Saturday’s Preakness

BALTIMORE – Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mystik Dan is expected to become the betting favorite for Saturday’s 149th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course with morning-line choice Muth’s withdrawal Wednesday morning after developing a temperature.

“It’s a fragile game; it can happen to any of them,” Mystik Dan’s trainer, Kenny McPeek said upon hearing the news of Muth’s scratch while he was scrambling to get ready to fly from Louisville to Baltimore.

“Oh, my goodness. I guess it puts added pressure on us, but he’s ready,” he said.

With former jockey Robby Albarado, a two-time Preakness winner, aboard, Mystik Dan zipped through his gallop on a sloppy, sealed racetrack at Pimlico after the mid-morning renovation break. Mystik Dan won Oaklawn Park’s Southwest (G3) by eight lengths in the slop. After skipping the Rebel Stakes (G2), the Goldencents colt finished third in the Arkansas Derby (G1) won by Muth.

McPeek designed the gallop to be 1 3/16 miles, instructing Albarado to pick it up through the stretch.

“We kind of emulated the Preakness distance,” McPeek said. “I told Robby to let him jump away and then stretch out down the lane.”

Albarado said he liked the track surface Wednesday morning.

“I’m doing a rain dance all this week,” he said. “… I’m not saying he has to take a racetrack with him, but we know he gets over it well.”

“He felt really good this morning,” he added. “He was very responsive when I needed him at the sixteenth-pole. I squeezed him a little but just to see if he was there, and he was there. He feels good on all tracks, but there’s something about this that he just gets over it easy. Going way back, and I’m not making a comparison, but Curlin (his 2007 Preakness winner and two-time Horse of the Year) was like that. On a muddy track, Curlin would just maul them. He got over it like glass, like an ice skater. This horse is similar in getting over it the same type of way. It’s definitely not a disadvantage for him.”

Albarado last rode in 2021. One of his last victories came in the COVID-delayed Preakness of 2020, which he narrowly won on the McPeek-trained filly Swiss Skydiver over Kentucky Derby winner Authentic. Through that experience, into retirement and even in his new career as a jockey agent, Albarado continues to be involved with McPeek’s young horses.

“I enjoy the role. I knew (Mystik Dan) was that talented early. When I’d get on him, he showed all the signs of a good horse,” Albarado said, adding with a grin, “Now, I guess the only downside to it is I’m not the one riding him in races.”

That assignment, of course, belongs to fellow Louisiana native Brian Hernandez Jr. Albarado said he won’t be giving Hernandez any advice about riding the Preakness.

“I can’t give Brian any advice. He’s a professional,” Albarado said. “He knows. He watches races.”

Albarado’s best finish in the Kentucky Derby was a second with long shot Golden Soul in 2013.

“I’ve never won the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “I’ve been on some (good) Derby horses, too. So, I guess I’m living vicariously through Mystik Dan right now. I never stepped into the Derby winner’s circle until this year. I soaked it all in. I felt I was a big part of that. I didn’t need to be in the forefront, but it felt good being there. Horses change people’s lives, man. And he changed a lot of people’s lives the first Saturday in May.”

Mystik Dan, now a winner of more than $3.7 million, is owned by the Arkansas partnership of Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing, Daniel Hamby III and Valley View Farm LLC.

MUTH/IMAGINATION – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s planned one-two punch for the 149th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) was reduced by one when Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Muth was declared out of the race because of a high temperature. That leaves Baffert with Imagination, the runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), to carry the flag for the barn in Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course.

Baffert got a call from assistant Jimmy Barnes early Wednesday morning and got the bad news. Muth had spiked a temperature of 103. Muth and Imagination arrived in Baltimore Tuesday night at 9:30 after an 18-hour trip.

The horses had taken a FedEx flight out of Los Angeles International Airport and arrived in Newark. N.J. before vanning to Pimlico.

“It’s a long trip and I always worry about them getting sick,” Baffert said from Southern California. “I have been so lucky; it just caught up to me. It was bad luck, bad timing. It’s disappointing because we were really looking forward to it. The timing is horrible, but the horse will be fine.”

The bright side, if there is such a thing in a situation like this:

“We still have Imagination, and we aren’t giving up on him,” Baffert said.

Imagination, a son of Into Mischief owned by SF Racing LLC and partners, was rated as the co-third choice at 6-1 on the morning line with Catching Freedom before the withdrawal of Muth, who was installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite after entries were taken for Preakness 149 Monday.

If he is able to find the winner’s circle, it would give Baffert a record-extending ninth career win in the Preakness.

Imagination has two wins and four seconds in six career starts. Three of his second-place finishes have been by a neck, including his last race, the Santa Anita Derby, in which he lost to Stronghold as the even-money favorite.

Imagination will be ridden by international star Frankie Dettori on Saturday. Dettori has been on Imagination in his last two starts.

“He is improving,” Baffert said of his colt. “We will find out when the gates open how he is doing.”

Imagination did not go to the track Wednesday after the long day of travel. Barnes said the horse was tacked up and walked the shedrow. He will make his first appearance on the Pimlico oval Thursday morning.

CATCHING FREEDOM – Brad Cox, trying to win his first Preakness Stakes (G1) with Albaugh Family Stables’ Kentucky Derby (G1) fourth-place finisher Catching Freedom, knows how fellow trainer Bob Baffert feels with Wednesday morning’s scratch of morning-line favorite Muth from Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. A year ago, the Cox-trained First Mission, who was the second choice in the early odds behind favored Kentucky Derby winner Mage, was withdrawn with an injury.

“Unfortunate for the horse and the connections,” Cox said by phone from Kentucky. “I shouldn’t say I feel their pain, but we’ve obviously been there and done that. I know the connections are going to make the right decision based on the horse. But Bob is still alive with another horse anyhow.”

That’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) runner-up Imagination, who was the co-third choice at 6-1 with Catching Freedom in the initial early odds. Imagination is the prime speed in what now is a field of eight 3-year-olds.

Asked how Muth’s defection might change the race tactically, Cox said, “I don’t know that it helps us.” That’s because Muth figured to be part of the pace scenario, his absence potentially slowing down the pace and making it more challenging for the stretch-running Catching Freedom.

“We’ll just have to line them up and let them sort themselves out,” Cox said.

Still, he acknowledged he was even more glad he’d entered Catching Freedom, going against his usual pattern of not running a horse back in two weeks.

“Yes,” he said. “As soon as I heard about Muth, two people told me, ‘That’s why you run.’ Listen, our horse still has to show up and run. The main thing is the horse did appear to ship over there in great shape and he’s had two good mornings over there so far. We’re looking forward to the race on Saturday.”

Catching Freedom, who won the Louisiana Derby (G2) at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles six weeks before the Derby, had a routine gallop Wednesday over a sealed Pimlico surface.

“He had a really good gallop,” Cox said, having gotten a report from his assistant on the scene, his son Blake.

Flavien Prat, who won the 2021 Preakness with Rombauer, has the mount on Catching Freedom.

TUSCAN GOLD – After vanning from Belmont Park to Baltimore on Tuesday, Tuscan Gold got his first look at the main track at Pimlico Race Course on a misty Wednesday morning.

The son of Medaglia d’Oro stepped on the track at 7 a.m. and galloped “about” a mile and three eighths, according to Jose Hernandez, an assistant to trainer Chad Brown.

“He was really happy out there,” Hernandez said.

Tuscan Gold, owned by William H. Lawrence, Walmac Farm and Stonestreet Stables LLC, will be making his fourth career start in Saturday’s 149th running of the $2 million Preakness Stakes (G1).

It’s a race the Brown barn has won twice before, in 2017 with Cloud Computing and in 2022 with Early Voting. Both those horses also had made just three starts before winning the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

With the possibility of rain in the forecast this week, there is a chance the track could have moisture in it. Tuscan Gold, third in the Louisiana Derby (G2) in his third start, has never raced on an off track but his sire had success on wet surfaces.

“He has trained on it, and it was wet today,” Hernandez said. “He seems to like it.”

Hernandez said that Tuscan Gold will train Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

Brown is not expected to be in Baltimore until Saturday.

JUST STEEL/SEIZE THE GREY – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Wednesday that losing the speedy morning-line favorite Muth isn’t likely to have much of an impact on his two runners, Just Steel and Seize the Grey, in the 149th Preakness Stakes (G1) Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.

Muth was found to have spiked a fever, and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said the colt will be scratched from the $2 million Preakness.

Just Steel was second to Muth by two lengths in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on March 30. He was 17th in the Kentucky Derby (G1) after attending a stiff early pace. The Justify colt co-owned by BC Stables LLC and Henry Schmueckle has found some of his success coming from behind. With Muth out, the early fractions might be a bit slower, which could compromise closers.

Lukas, 88, said his Preakness horses have different running styles.

“Seize the Grey will lay close. He probably won’t be on the pace, but he’ll lay close,” Lukas said. “The other horse, in an eight-horse field, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. We’ll be laying close enough to run at it if we’ve got enough horse.”

Lukas’ Preakness horses went out for routine gallops on a foggy, rainy morning at Pimlico Wednesday. Lukas said he would rather not have to deal with an “off” track in the Preakness.

“Seize the Grey would be better on it,” Lukas said. “He’s already won on a wet track. I think he’d be fine. The other horse, I don’t know. I’d rather it be dry for him. We’ll see. I don’t know exactly what he will do. Let’s just hope it’s dry.”

Lukas and Baffert both moved into training thoroughbreds after being successful in Quarter Horse racing and are pals.

“Obviously, I feel bad for Bob,” Lukas said. “The Triple Crown series has been awfully good to him, but then lately he’s had some bad luck.”

UNCLE HEAVY – Mark Reid, the original Uncle Heavy, did more than just give his nickname to the Preakness Stakes (G1) runner trained by his younger brother, Butch Reid, Jr.

Now mostly retired from a long career as a trainer and bloodstock agent, Mark Reid is directly responsible for the breeding of the colt, who has won three of five career starts, including the Withers Stakes (G3).

In December 2020, Mark Reid was following the wishes of a client who wanted to get out of the broodmare business. Reid was told that he did not have to set a reserve, or minimum, price. However, he did have a $2,000 reserve on Expect Wonderful, by Tiz Wonderful.

“I always loved this mare,” Mark Reid said. “He said, ‘Let them all go.’ When she went through, I just couldn’t do it.”

Bidding stopped at $1,700 and Reid and his wife acquired the mare, then in foal to Social Inclusion, for their 80-acre Pennsylvania farm. About five months later, she dropped a foal who was named Uncle Heavy. The colt is co-owned by longtime clients of the Reid brothers, Michael Milam and LC Racing LLC.

Expect Wonderful’s first foal, who arrived several months before the sale, was by The Factor. After the mare delivered Uncle Heavy by Social Inclusion, she was bred back to Pennsylvania stallion Peace and Justice. That 2-year-old is named Beyond Expectations and is co-owned by Mark Reid and Dan Ryan. He will be trained by Butch Reid.

“He’s just like Heavy, a big, strong, physical colt. We have high hopes for him,” Mark Reid said.

Now that his $1,700 mare is a graded-stakes producer with a son that is going to run in the Preakness, Mark Reid changed his approach.

“This year when Uncle Heavy came around, I decided to upgrade her, so we bred her to Omaha Beach, who stands at Spendthrift,” he said. “She’s in foal to him. We think we will keep her around.”

The 10-year-old Expect Wonderful is the only horse on Mark and Barbara Reid’s farm. Barbara is listed as the breeder of Uncle Heavy.

“She’s been a joy. You wouldn’t even know she’s around,” Mark Reid said. “She only drops big, strong colts.”

During his very successful run as a bloodstock agent, among the horses Mark Reid purchased for the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel were Medaglia d’Oro and You. He managed Horse of the Year Saint Liam for William K. and Suzanne Warren and later purchased City of Light for the Warrens. Reid’s eye and experience that served him well in his bloodstock business made him keep Expect Wonderful, who has produced Uncle Heavy from a $5,000 cover by a local stallion.

“We came up with a big, nice horse,” Mark Reid said. “He always was a big, nice horse. He was kind of gawky and lazy as a young horse, but Butch said that as soon as he got to the racetrack he switched on.”

Mark Reid won the Atlantic Coast Conference heavyweight wrestling title in 1972 while a student at the University of Maryland. When he went to work for trainer Dickie Dutrow, the grooms started calling him “Heavy” and the nickname stuck. It changed a bit in the Reid family when the next generation came along and started calling him Uncle Heavy.

Uncle Heavy was shipped from Parx to Pimlico on Tuesday and went to the track for his exercise Wednesday morning.

MUGATU – Average Joe Racing Stables LLC and Dan Wells’ Mugatu walked the Preakness Stakes Barn shedrow Wednesday morning following a delayed arrival to Pimlico Race Course, where the 3-year-old son of Blofeld is scheduled to face seven rivals in Saturday’s 149th Preakness Stakes (G1).

“They got in a little late. They were scheduled to get in at midnight and they got here at 4 a.m. He was scheduled to jog this morning but since they got in so late, he walked,” said trainer Jeff Engler, whose Preakness hope shipped from Belterra Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Other than that, he ate up and was sleeping when we got here.”

Engler was pondering how Wednesday morning’s scratch of Muth from the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown would affect Mugatu, who closed from 10th to fifth in the April 6 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland. Muth, the front-running winner of the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his most recent start, came down with a fever after shipping from Southern California Tuesday, leaving stablemate Imagination to represent their Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

“I’m still trying to digest that. It takes a lot of speed out of the race. Imagination still has speed, but somebody’s got to go with him,” Engler said. “We’re a closer and Mystik Dan is, as well.”

Mugatu will break from the rail post position in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.

“Everyone asks me, ‘What do you think of the 1 Hole?’ I don’t think it matters to us,” Engler said. “We’re a closer. We’re going to be back anyway. We’ll be able to save some ground.”

Joe Bravo, who was aboard for Mugatu’s maiden special weight score at Gulfstream Park in November on the only occasion that he has ridden the Engler trainee, has the Preakness mount.