Mystik Dan goes for Triple Crown 2nd leg in Preakness

Exercise rider Robby Albarado takes Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan over the track prior to the 149th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore (Rob Carr)
Exercise rider Robby Albarado takes Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan over the track prior to the 149th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore (Rob Carr)

Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan will vie for the second jewel of US flat racing's Triple Crown in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, his path perhaps made easier when early favorite Muth was scratched because of illness.

Mystik Dan, trained by Kenny McPeek and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., snatched victory in a thrilling three-way photo finish at Churchill Downs on May 4.

The 18-1 shot gave both McPeek and Hernandez their first Kentucky Derby victories, but in the Preakness it was the Bob Baffert-trained Muth that was favored to win after his convincing victory over Mystik Dan in the Arkansas Derby in March.

There was no rematch at the Kentucky Derby as Baffert's Churchill Downs suspension continued for a third straight year.

And Baffert announced on Wednesday that Muth had spiked a fever upon his arrival in Baltimore and wouldn't race the 1 3/16-mile, $2 million Preakness at Pimlico.

"We are sick about this," Baffert said. "The horse had been doing really well. But we have to do what’s right by the horse."

McPeek took a week to see how Mystik Dan rebounded from the Kentucky Derby to confirm the colt would run the Preakness.

"He's doing great," said McPeek after Mystik Dan drew the fifth post."He's a pretty easy-peasy colt. He eats well.

"He's a real quiet horse. I've used the terminology that he's an old soul. Nothing much fazes him at all, which makes our job really easy."

Baffert will still saddle a strong contender in Imagination, who will break from the outside post in the field of eight with legendary Italian jockey Frankie Dettori in the irons.

Imagination comes in on four weeks' rest while the Chad Brown-trained Tuscan Gold has had eight weeks off since his stakes debut, a third-place finish behind Catching Freedom in the Louisiana Derby.

The Brad Cox-trained Catching Freedom arrives at Pimlico off a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

In all, 36 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in the same year, but only 13 have gone on to win the Belmont Stakes to complete the coveted Triple Crown.

The last four Preakness winners -- the filly Swiss Skydiver in the Covid-delayed 2020 running, Rombauer in 2021, Early Voting in 2022, and National Treasure last year -- had not run in the Derby.

This year's eight runners include five that didn't race in Louisville.

But McPeek and Hernandez acknowledged that with the Kentucky Derby secured, it was impossible not to consider the possibility of the Triple Crown -- which will conclude this year with a Belmont Stakes run at Saratoga on June 8 because of renovations at Belmont Park.

McPeek has tasted Preakness success before, saddling Swiss Skydiver in 2020.

That year the race was run in October with no fans in attendance, and McPeek is savoring a "normal" week at Pimlico.

"This is what you want. You want this atmosphere," McPeek said. "You want people here. You wanted them connected to it all and seeing all of it. I'm glad we're back to normal."