Selecting Upset Contender to Defeat Mystic Dan in Preakness Stakes

Selecting Upset Contender to Defeat Mystic Dan in Preakness Stakes

The 149th running of the $2 million, Grade 1 Preakness Stakes Saturday at Pimlico Race Course brings together nine 3-year-old colts, with two of them exiting wins in top company. The field for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness is led by Mystik Dan, who won a thrilling edition of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve by a nose two weeks ago after a rail-skimming ride and returns to try to take the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Muth won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby when last seen on March 30, defeating Mystik Dan by over six lengths (UPDATE: Muth was withdrawn from the race on May 15). Seize the Grey won the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by SAP on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Others in the field have top credentials as well, including Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner Catching Freedom, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Tuscan Gold finished third behind Catching Freedom in the Louisiana Derby and hopes to improve off that effort. Uncle Heavy won the Grade 3 Withers Stakes in February before a fifth-place effort in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino. Similarly, Just Steel finished second behind Muth in the Arkansas Derby but got caught up in a fast early pace in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby and faded to 17th. Imagination won the Grade 2 DK Horse San Felipe Stakes in March prior to finishing second by a neck in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, and is yet another colt with big hopes to run well in this year’s Preakness. Mugatu, who finished fifth in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes last month, rounds out the field.

Win contenders:

Catching Freedom was visually impressive winning the Louisiana Derby on March 23, rallying eight paths wide into the stretch and moving up from 11th to fourth before driving past the remaining three horses in front of him in the final eighth of a mile. Prior to that, Catching Freedom rallied for third in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes behind Sierra Leone, who subsequently won the Blue Grass Stakes and then finished second in the Kentucky Derby by a nose. In the Kentucky Derby, Catching Freedom moved up from 15th in the early stages but was outfinished by Sierra Leone, third-place Forever Young, and winner Mystik Dan, who Catching Freedom had followed along the rail in the latter stages of the race. I feel the reason Catching Freedom didn’t run as well as the top three in the Derby had to do with the additional week between the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby. As I wrote in my Derby analysis, with 3-year-olds at this time of year, even a week or two between the last prep race and the Derby can make just enough difference in fitness levels to enable them to successfully handle the Kentucky Derby’s mile-and-a-quarter distance. Other horses coming out of the Louisiana Derby such as Honor Marie and Track Phantom, who finished eighth and 11th, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby, also seem to prove this point. Now that Catching Freedom is more fit, and considering that he has improved his Equibase Speed Figures in his last three races from 96, to 98, then to 107 in the Derby, I think he has a nice shot to post the mild upset in this year’s Preakness.

Mystik Dan has run consistently fast in each of his last three starts, earning a 110 Equibase Speed Figure winning the Southwest Stakes in February, a 106 figure when third in the Arkansas Derby, and then a 109 figure winning the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. The fact that he finished third in the Arkansas Derby was part of the reason he went to post at odds of 18.61-1 in the Kentucky Derby. After getting a ground saving ride from Brian Hernandez Jr. in the Kentucky Derby, Mystik Dan was able to duplicate his Southwest Stakes effort. Shortening up by a sixteenth of a mile in the Preakness may help him win the second jewel in the Triple Crown, considering he was in front by two lengths in the Derby with an eighth of a mile to run, a margin that diminished with every stride by Sierra Leone and Forever Young down to just a nose at the wire. He’s likely to be positioned in third or fourth in the early stages of the Preakness behind horses which have shown a tendency to run up front early such as Muth and Imagination, and Mystik Dan may be able to once again save ground in the Preakness and then move past the early leaders before holding off the late kick of Catching Freedom.

Muth made his first start as a 3-year-old in January, winning the one-turn San Vicente Stakes with a 95 Equibase figure, before returning nearly three months later to win the Arkansas Derby held at 1 1/8 miles. That effort earned Muth a career-best 115 Equibase figure, which is the best by any horse in the Preakness field. Muth was also successful around two turns as a 2-year-old, winning the American Pharoah Stakes (99 figure) before posting a runner-up effort in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by TAA (100 figure). As he is lightly raced, Muth can certainly improve off his last effort, and he did win the Arkansas Derby off a longer layoff than the one he’s coming back from Saturday, which suggests he could be the one to beat on paper in this year’s Preakness. UPDATE: The Preakness Stakes press office announced on the morning of May 15 that Muth was scratched from the Preakness field by trainer Bob Baffert after spiking a fever.

Honorable mention goes to Imagination, Tuscan Gold, and Uncle Heavy, who I might consider for minor awards. Imagination earned a 104 figure winning the San Felipe Stakes in March before suffering a neck defeat in the Santa Anita Derby resulting in a 98 figure. The winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Stronghold, could only manage a seventh-place effort in the Kentucky Derby, and even if he improves back to his effort in the San Felipe, Imagination may only be third- or fourth-best in this field. Tuscan Gold is the most lightly raced horse in the group, having run just three times. He improved to a career-best 96 figure when finishing third in the Louisiana Derby, but he’s been away since then as compared to Catching Freedom who ran two weeks ago. It must be noted, however, that the sixth-place finisher in the Louisiana Derby, Antiquarian, won the Peter Pan Stakes last week. Since he’s likely to improve in only his third start of the year, Tuscan Gold could make an impression. Uncle Heavy got on everyone’s radar with a very sharp win by a nose in the Withers Stakes at 1 1/8 miles in February, earning a 95 figure in the process. However, he didn’t run well at all two months later when fifth in the Wood Memorial Stakes. Still, that 95 figure from the Withers stacks up well with the best effort Tuscan Gold put forth to date and the most recent effort from Imagination, so Uncle Heavy is another to consider as a contender.

The rest of the Preakness Stakes field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Just Steel (112), Mugatu (96) and Seize the Grey (93).

Win contenders:

Catching Freedom

Mystik Dan

Other contenders:


Tuscan Gold

Uncle Heavy

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