Derby Hero Mystik Dan Returns to Track with Preakness on Radar

May 8th, 2024

Trainer Kenny McPeek: ‘At This Stage, I Like What I See’

Mugatu Seeks to Pay Huge Dividends on Modest Investment in Preakness

May 18 Preakness Not Ruled Out for Tesio Winner Copper Tax

Withers Winner Uncle Heavy Confirmed for Middle Jewel of Triple Crown

BALTIMORE, MD – Mystik Dan went back to the racetrack at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning for the first time since registering an upset victory in the May 4 Kentucky Derby (G1).

The 3-year-old son of Goldencents, who is owned by Lance Gasaway, Sharilyn Gasaway, Daniel Hamby III and Valley View Farm LLC, jogged a lap and galloped a lap under regular exercise rider Martin Reyes at about 6 a.m.


“He’s doing great,” said trainer Kenny McPeek, who plans to train Mystik Dan with his second set at approximately 5:45 a.m. going forward. “[He went] a little more than a mile, a mile and an eighth maybe [each lap]. That’s a typical routine for us, let them jog a turn. I always walk three days after they run. Tomorrow, we’ll probably gallop him a mile and three-eighths, a little farther. Same thing Friday and Saturday. I suspect we’ll make a (Preakness) decision over the weekend, or even as late as Monday. But more than anything, I just want to make sure he’s moving good and eating good and happy. And at this stage, I like what I see.”

McPeek said Wednesday morning that things are going in the right direction to run the Derby winner back in Baltimore’s Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course, reiterating that a decision on his trainee’s status for the May 18 Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown is still pending. Entries are taken Monday.

“I’ve said it repeatedly: An old guy told me long ago, ‘Never make a decision until you absolutely, positively have to,’” McPeek told the media on hand in his Churchill Downs barn office. “If he’s healthy, we’re not scared to go. If we feel like he needs more time, he’ll get it. It’s all gray; it’s not black and white.

“Who wouldn’t want to go? Especially, if your horse is doing well,” he added. “And the mile and three-sixteenths is actually probably a better distance for him than a mile and a quarter, because they almost got him at a mile and a quarter.”

Mystik Dan, under a brilliant rail-skimming ride by Brian Hernandez Jr., won the 150th Derby by a nose over Sierra Leone, with Japan’s Forever Young another nose back in third. The result made McPeek the first trainer since the legendary Ben Jones (1952) to sweep the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Derby in one year. McPeek and Hernandez teamed to win Friday’s 150th Oaks with Thorpedo Anna.

Mystik Dan gave McPeek a career Triple Crown. He won the 2020 COVID-delayed Preakness with the filly Swiss Skydiver and the 2002 Belmont Stakes (G1) with Sarava, who prevailed in New York at record 70-1 odds three weeks after winning the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard.

“It’s a great race,” McPeek said of the Preakness. “It’s an American classic for a reason. We’re not taking that lightly at all.”

Although McPeek earlier had expressed concern about the two-week turnaround between the Derby and the Preakness for Mystik Dan, he said Wednesday that on general terms “it’s not that big a deal.”

“In this day and age, we don’t run on (the anti-bleeder medication) Lasix anymore,” he said. “Lasix was a real dehydration factor. I think it was really hard to win the Triple Crown with Lasix. I think that was one of the reasons there was a drought in it. Over my career, I’ve run horses back quickly plenty of times. I mean, I ran Rattle N Roll back in seven days off a win. I’m not scared to do that. So we’ll see. We’ll let him tell us.

“It just depends on their constitution, how well they’re doing, whether they’re eating,” he added. “As long as their immune systems are good and they’re happy, no problem.”

McPeek said he finally worked through and returned all of the approximately 2,000 congratulatory texts he’d received. His many phone calls included one from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, the eight-time Preakness winner whose Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Muth is the likely favorite for the classic’s 149th running. Muth beat Mystik Dan in the Arkansas Derby, in which McPeek’s horse was third.

“I don’t worry about other people’s horses,” McPeek said. “It’s hard to train mine, much less everybody else’s. I talked to Bob the other day, had a great call with him. He was thrilled for me.”

Also at Churchill, D. Wayne Lukas said his two Preakness Stakes horses, Pat Day Mile (G2) winner Seize the Grey and Arkansas Derby runner-up/Kentucky Derby 17th-place finisher Just Steel, resumed training early Wednesday morning, along with his Black-Eyed Susan (G2) hopeful, Lemon Muffin, who finished eighth in the Kentucky Oaks after winning the Honeybee (G3) at Oaklawn Park. The trio is scheduled to leave Louisville very early Monday morning for an afternoon arrival at Pimlico.

Mugatu’s Owner Hoping for Huge Return on Modest Investment

Christopher Britton, who has dabbled in Thoroughbred ownership for the past 14 years, wasn’t necessarily looking to buy a Preakness Stakes (G1) prospect when he asked bloodstock agent Dan Preiss to purchase a horse for his Average Joe Racing Stables Ltd.

“We didn’t have that big of a budget,” Britton said. “We told our bloodstock agent, ‘Find us as nice a one as you can get for $15,000 at the OBS sale.”’

A 2-year-old son of Blofeld joined Average Joe Racing Stables Ltd. and Dan Wells after selling at the ‘bargain’ price of $14,000. When it came to naming the colt, there were two camps of thought.

“We got with each other, the owners, and bounced some names around. It came down to Mugatu, which some people liked because they liked that Zoolander movie,” Britton recalled, “and there were a couple of us who like Mr. Blojangles, because he was by Blofeld. Mugatu ended up winning the shake, you could say.”

Mugatu, named after Zoolander villain Jacobim Mugatu, would go on to graduate impressively in his fifth career start in a mile-and-70-yard maiden special weight race on Tapeta at Gulfstream Park by 3 ¼ lengths Nov. 18. He went winless in five subsequent starts at Gulfstream and Turfway before closing from last in a 10-horse field to finish fifth in the April 6 Blue Grass (G1) over Keeneland’s main track behind Sierra Leone, Just a Touch, Epic Ride and Dornoch, all of whom went on to run in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1). Seize the Grey, who finished seventh in the Blue Grass, went on to win the Pat Day Mile (G2) on the Derby undercard. Due to late defections, Mugatu was on the bubble to make the Kentucky Derby field.

“At first, we didn’t want to get our hopes up because we were third alternate, Britton said. “Then Seize the Grey went ahead and dropped out and went to the Pat Day Mile, which was good for them because they won it. Then Encino scratches, and we were sitting here on Tuesday thinking it could be a reality. It didn’t happen.”

Britton has worked 17 years at Union Home Mortgage in greater Cleveland, Ohio, where Bill Cosgrove, who operates Lea Farms LLC, serves as Chief Executive Officer. Lea Farms LLC’s Power Squeeze, who captured the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), finished sixth in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks (G1).

“I sort of got him into the racing game about four years ago. There were a few horses we did together, but he’s on a different playing field than we are, so he’s sort of done his own thing and has had pretty good success,” Britton said. “He had one in the Oaks, and if we could have drawn into the Derby, that would have been real neat.”

Britton and Mugatu’s trainer Jeff Engler have been longtime friends since playing ball together in their hometown, Westchester, Ohio.

Preakness Not Ruled Out for Tesio Winner Copper Tax

Rose Petal Stable’s Copper Tax remains under consideration for the 149th Preakness Stakes (G1) May 18 at Pimlico Race Course as his connections continue to formulate a plan for the multiple-stakes winner’s next start.

Copper Tax earned an automatic berth in the $2 million Preakness by virtue of his three-quarter-length victory in the $125,000 Federico Tesio going 1 1/8 miles April 20 at Laurel Park. The Preakness is contested at 1 3/16 miles.

Trained by Laurel-based Gary Capuano, Copper Tax has put together back-to-back stakes wins around two turns, beginning with the 1 1/16-mile Private Terms March 23 over his home track. He also won a pair of stakes at 2, and seven of 10 career starts.

“Right now we do not know. We’ve been meeting with [Capuano] to discuss what the best opportunities are for us, whether we want to run him in the Preakness or another race that day or looking at what’s coming up on the horizon,” Rose Petal’s Chris Loso said. “We’re still just kind of feeling it out.

“Everything’s open right now. We’re just waiting to see what horses are entering the race and what’s going to be the best opportunity for Copper Tax to do well,” he added. “It’s not just about going into a race like the Preakness just because it’s a big race. You want to make sure that the horse you have in there is there to do well. We want to make sure we give him the best opportunity possible to perform well. We are weighing every option.”

Copper Tax was stepped on leaving the gate, lost a shoe and raced well off a speedy track bias when he was sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) Dec. 2 at Aqueduct, a race where subsequent graded-stakes winners Dornoch and Sierra Leone ran 1-2. Sierra Leone came back to be beaten by a nose by Mystik Dan in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

“His leg had gotten clipped coming out of the gate and so he didn’t have the greatest run,” Loso said. “I think it’s a testament that he’s a good horse. It’s a matter of what’s the best race for him and how he can perform.”

Copper Tax was ridden in each of his last two races by J.G. Torrealba, a five-pound apprentice who won the riding title at Laurel’s recently concluded spring meet. The son of Grade 2 winner Copper Bullet has yet to breeze back since the Tesio.

“Right after the race I saw the horse and he’s just as focused and he was really well-settled, so there’s no concerns with his physical abilities or his state of mind,” Loso said. “He’s focused. He’s all business.”

Note: Trainer Butch Reid informed Pimlico racing office officials Wednesday afternoon that Uncle Heavy will be entered in the Preakness Stakes. The son of Social Inclusion, who is owned by Michael Milliam and LC Racing LLC, won the Withers Stakes (G3) before finishing fifth in the April 6 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.

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