2024 Preakness Stakes: Derby Winner Mystik Dan Up for Challenge

Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens liked to “run ’em when they’re doin’ good.” Five days after crushing the 1982 Met Mile by 7¼ lengths with speedy Conquistador Cielo, he saddled “the Con-kwistador,” as he called him, in the Belmont Stakes. Woody’s peaking colt bolted to a 14-length runaway.

Mystik Dan. MJC Photo

Chance of rain for Preakness Stakes, but Mystik Dan is a mudder

That was long ago, when thoroughbreds were much more durable and racing twice a month wasn’t uncommon. In recent years, the Preakness Stakes has drawn fewer horses from the Kentucky Derby. Its 2022 winner, Rich Strike, skipped it, and a year ago the only Kentucky Derby runner in a seven-horse Preakness Stakes was Mage, whose third-place dud ended his Triple Crown hopes.

Before last weekend, it appeared as if the only Kentucky Derby colt headed for Baltimore was also-ran Just Steel. Suddenly, that changed, and what looked like a one-horse race featuring Bob Baffert’s Arkansas Derby winner Muth got a lot more interesting. A day after trainer Kenny McPeek said Derby hero Mystik Dan was in, Brad Cox committed Catching Freedom (fourth, Derby) on Sunday.

When 8-5 morning-line favorite Muth was scratched Wednesday because of an elevated temperature, the possibility of a Triple Crown bid got a lot more likely.


Mud-loving Mystik Dan inherits the favorite’s role against an unspectacular group of seven rivals. There’s rain in the forecast, and Mystik Dan dominated the Southwest Stakes by eight lengths in the mud at Oaklawn Park. He won the Derby on a fast track, so rain or shine he should be tough.

Post time for the Preakness is 7:01 p.m. ET

McPeek and Cox’s Preakness  Stakes Preparations

Neither McPeek nor Cox likes running back on short rest. It backfired when McPeek tried it last fall with Mystik Dan, who was a distant fifth 13 days after breaking his maiden. Catching Freedom entered the Kentucky Derby after a six-week break, and the intervals between his other races were 38, 53, 47 and 35 days.

The original plans of McPeek and Cox were to await next month’s Belmont, but they listened to what their colts were telling them and went against their usual modus operandi.

Mystik Dan’s 1½-mile gallop Saturday at Churchill Downs convinced McPeek. “The horse is doing fantastic,” he said. “I ‘scoped him, he’s clean, and his bloodwork was perfect. All systems go.”

Catching Freedom: The Preakness Stakes Contender’s Journey

The bay son of Goldencents will try to become the first horse to complete the Derby-Preakness double since eventual Triple Crown champion Justify did it in 2018. McPeek’s filly Swiss Skydiver won the 2020 Preakness in early October in a year the pandemic scrambled the classics schedule.

Cox’s only Preakness starters were Owendale (third) and Warrior’s Charge (fourth) in 2019.

“We like how he’s doing,” Cox said of Catching Freedom. “It’s just not as common as it used to be to run these horses back in two weeks at this level, but that’s the way the schedule is. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to be very competitive in a Grade 1 as long as he’s doing well. The Preakness is a very prestigious race. It’s a classic.”

And one that may set up a Triple Crown bid.

Pimlico Preakness Saturday Weather Forecast and Track Conditions

The long-range forecast called for 67% chance of showers Saturday at Pimlico. Besides Mystik Dan, Seize the Grey (15-1) and Uncle Heavy (20-1) won on off tracks, with Uncle Heavy 2-for-2 on them. Imagination and 20-1 Mugatu have run only on fast tracks, and Catching Freedom (third), Just Steel (second, third) and Tuscan Gold (third) fell short on wet dirt.

Mystik Dan seems to have bounced back well from a hard race in the Derby, but can he handle the quick turnaround? Coming back in two weeks takes Catching Freedom out of his comfort zone, and he’s a deep closer, a style that rarely wins the Preakness.

Mr. Tout’s picks: 1 Mystik Dan 2 Just Steel 3 Catching Freedom



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