Thursday, May 16, 2024

No Triple Crown Winner!? Good As Gold

Muth's scratch from the 2024 Preakness Stakes both eliminates the presumptive favorite and makes Mystik Dan's connections look smarter for entering in hopes of a Triple Crown.

My opinions below on each of Saturday's eight Preakness runners are based on Mystik Dan getting an absolute dream trip to win the Kentucky Derby and that a repeat will not be in order in Baltimore. I still think he hits the board, but this field is fairly weak. 

I sense the race shapes up similarly and that Dan might get the exact same trip, but to me the rigors of the Run for the Roses campaign were sure to cut into the horse's sharpness, and so I'm downgrading his win chances in the second leg of racing's Triple Crown.

Tuscan Gold is the horse I like most and that I believe could retain odds closer his morning line than others in the field. Great trainer who missed winning the Derby by 1-2 jumps and has won the Preakness twice (2017 and 2022). Very creditable third-place finish in his first start vs. graded company and 1x vs. winners. For my money, this one has the best chance of stepping forward. 

The Win Contenders

8. Tuscan Gold (8-1). Win selection. This horse was on the outside looking in for the Kentucky Derby, finishing 28th among potential qualifiers, yet no shame in that as he's the most lightly raced three-year-old in the Preakness. Trainer Chad Brown has a very live one here, in my opinion. The horse's only race at age two was in early November in a maiden race won by Sierra Leone; was a good foundation for his next race and 2024 debut win in late January at Gulfstream Park, where he still looked a tad inexperienced but exploded late in the stretch when prompted. Brown tried him in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 23, where he ran third and did much of the heavy lifting as far as a wide trip and helping to set the tempo, along with some jostling in the early stretch. Kept running yet lost to presumptive Preakness favorite Catching Freedom and Kentucky Derby runner Honor Marie by less than two lengths. To me, this looks like an intelligent horse that could be tactical and will move up on Saturday. Even if he doesn't win, I sense he may have the most upside among Preakness entrants. Keying in all wagers.

4. Muth (8-5). Spiked a fever and scratched, which is unfortunate, considering he'd have been a play-against for me and taken money away from the horses I like more. 

Exacta and Trifecta Consideration

5. Mystik Dan (5-2). Everything went his way in winning the Kentucky Derby and jockey Brian J. Hernandez, Jr. made the winning rail move and the horse held on for dear life. Trainer Ken McPeek has trained a zillion horses vs. zero for me, and I know that everyone loves Triple Crown winners, but I just don't see it here. With zero speed to his inside, Hernandez could work out another perfect rail-skimmer and potentially have enough left to outlast the field, and so I think he'll sit third or fourth through the backstretch and hope to make a big inside run again but wonder if he'll have the energy after an exhaustive Derby experience. Will use underneath but could see wilting in the stretch. Gets a slice, then a well-deserved rest before a more attainable spot like the Haskell.

3. Catching Freedom (6-1). Sticking to my post-Kentucky Derby analysis of CF's trip: "identified as fourth best in field and ran to that placement; very slight checks passing clubhouse first time around but otherwise a clean, ground-saving trip yet never quite gained on Mystik Dan, which is the alarming part about using him bullishly down the road when the second- and third-place runners had wider trips and more gas int he tank late." This Brad Cox trainee will take too much money and be bettors' second choice if not the favorite when the gate opens. Did beat my top Preakness choice Tuscan Gold to the wire in the Louisiana Derby but everything went his way that afternoon and I think maybe we've seen the ceiling of Catching Freedom for now whereas Tuscan Gold moves forward. Still, hits the board since he's a grinder and won't quit. 

2. Uncle Heavy (20-1). I would elevate him to maybe a second-place contender if it's a muddy Preakness but otherwise put the ceiling at third or fourth with a major rider upgrade to Irad Ortiz. Is an incredibly slow horse from the gate, akin to the foes on each side (Mugatu in post 1, Catching Freedom in post 3) but started career as a sprinter and won on debut, beating a 1-5 shot at Parx. Two best races were versus much lesser and on sealed surfaces, so if Pimlico is treated equally to keep the rain off, elevate this one in your wagers. Sense that Ortiz will track Mystik Dan and sit midpack, then cross fingers that the pacesetters fade and Derby horses don't respond. Robert Reid -- no relation to Mike of Brady Bunch fame -- is a strong Northeastern trainer who often has live stakes horses. Could do no better than fifth in the Grade 2 Wood at Aqueduct in April, and as noted pre-Derby, runners from that one will never find my Triple Crown tickets as winners. Yet this guy's worth a look, especially on mud.

9. Imagination (6-1). Consummate grinder. In photo-type finishes in four of six lifetime starts but prognosticators are remiss to consider this Bob Baffert trainee (and second fiddle to scratched favorite Muth) a speed horse. No doubt will be forwardly placed from the gate but I think both D. Wayne Lukas-trained horses Seize the Grey and Just Steel are quicker. If you agree with that premise, then Imagination has shown nothing beyond sitting first or second throughout races and might not like a speed duel or taking dirt to the face. I sense bettors will get no better than 4-1 and would pass. Plus he was beaten head-to-head in the Santa Anita Derby by Stronghold, who I viewed as a California B teamer, so I'm not putting much stock in that one's 7th place Kentucky Derby finish to elevate Imagination to winner status.

Not Getting My Money

6. Seize the Grey (15-1). Ran a great race to win the Pat Day Mile two weeks ago on the Kentucky Derby undercard but that was a 1-turn mile in which the factions were blistering and the better of the D. Wayne Lucas trainees (Just Steel, below, is the other) outlasted everyone else and the competitors ran the final quarter in more than 26 seconds. I'm downgrading this horse of that effort and will assume he could use some rest. Did little in Grade 3 and Grade 1 preps for the Derby, so I question if he's capable of winning at two turns. I sense Lukas will have Just Steel sprint, with Seize the Grey right behind, then hope one of them gets lucky and hangs on. Pass.

7. Just Steel (15-1). Big jockey upgrade from 17th-place Kentucky Derby finish to Joel Rosario from Keith Asmussen but I maintain this is a 6-8 furlong horse that, much like two weeks ago, will be in the mix until they turn for home. Credit the horse for second-place tries vs. Muth in the Arkansas Derby and Mystik Dan in the Southwest -- both at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas -- but with just two weeks rest and a spotty 2-for-12 record, I'm passing and sense he'll be the pacesetter for stablemate Seize the Grey.

1. Mugatu (20-1). Scraped paint in the Bluegrass prep for the Derby and passed some tired back markers to finish fifth at 181-to-1 but nowhere close to win threat. Slow from the gate. Slow on paper. Slow on replay. Jersey Joe Bravo may need a miracle to finish top half in the Preakness. Pass.

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