It’s All About Family with Preakness Favorite Mystik Dan

May 17th, 2024

Baffert: Imagination ‘Needs to Separate Himself’
Catching Freedom ‘Bucking and Squealing’ after Galloping
Tuscan Gold ‘Very Focused’ for Middle Jewel of Triple Crown

BALTIMORE – If you should hear various Gasaway family members from Arkansas and their friends, the Hambys, repeatedly saying, “Thank you, Ma’am,” they aren’t just being overly polite.

Lance Gasaway, his cousin Brent Gasaway and his wife Sharilyn, Daniel “Banks” Hamby III and his brother Scotty, their families and assorted friends are converging on historic Pimlico Race Course to watch their Kentucky Derby(G1) winner Mystik Dan run in Saturday’s 149th Preakness Stakes (G1). It’s all thanks to a moderately accomplished mare named Ma’am, whose second foal and the first to survive went into the record books as the winner of the 150th Kentucky Derby. That baby now will attempt to become the 37th Derby winner to double up in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

Ma’am was bred by Keeneland’s celebrated former president Ted Bassett, now 102 years old, and his late wife, Lucy. The filly failed to sell as a yearling following a top bid of $9,500 in 1991. She was sold privately as a 2-year-old to Lance Gasaway, his brother Greg, their dad Clint (who died a year to the day before the 2024 Derby) and Daniel Hamby. When Ma’am was retired from racing, Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway bought out Greg and Clint’s share.

The partners own two broodmares together, while Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway have a couple more of their own. Both very small operations by any measure.

The chance of a two-mare broodmare band producing a Kentucky Derby winner, “is about like winning the Kentucky Derby” as an owner, Lance Gasaway said with a laugh. “Right? A long shot.

“… The odds are astronomical. Chase, my oldest son, looked it up. Half of the foals don’t even make it to the track,” he added. “To be in the 20 to make the Derby is like one-tenth of 1 percent. Then you go to win, you’re — what? — then you’re a half a percent of a thousandth. It’s crazy. Chase said, ‘So Daddy, with those odds, you pretty much hit the lottery.’”

Titans of horse racing spend millions to follow the creed of breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best. While there’s power in numbers, horse racing has a knack for proving the great equalizer.

In 23 races, Ma’am won a maiden-claiming race, two high-priced claiming races and an entry-level allowance race, never running in a stakes while grinding out earnings of $167,923. When she was through racing, Kenny McPeek — who trains Mystik Dan and had trained Ma’am for the Gasaways earlier in her career — suggested they breed her.

With Ma’am being by Travers (G1) winner Colonel John and out of a mare sired by Brazilian import Siphon, the mare had plenty of stamina. McPeek recommended they breed to the young Spendthrift Farm stallion Goldencents, a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), to infuse some speed. Goldencents’ stud fee was a fraction of what his internationally prominent sire Into Mischief commands.

“That was all Kenny’s idea,” said Lance Gasaway, noting they had no plans to breed Ma’am until then. “We just agreed to do it… Kenny’s made his reputation from his eye with horses. He said he thought it would be good, so we thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’

“… As soon as Kenny said that, it was, ‘Yeah, that would be OK with us.’ Everybody was so attached to Ma’am because she was really our first big purchase, and she was a real loving horse. We’d always feed her peppermints. And Mystik Dan is the same way.”

Mystik Dan’s owners became the first Arkansas-based owners to win the Kentucky Derby since W. Cal Partee became the first to do so in 1992 with Lil E. Tee.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Sharilyn Gasaway said. “We met with the governor of Arkansas. We went on the Senate floor, and they passed a resolution about us…. My sister called and said, ‘Hey, any way you can fly to Phoenix?’ Her husband is the pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. We flew to Phoenix, and they let me throw out the first pitch (Tuesday night). Can you believe that? We had some jerseys made with Mystik Dan on the back.

“These are all just kind of once-in-a-lifetime things,” she added.

About that ceremonial first pitch: “I was a little wide right, so it’s not a great strike,” she said. “But I did not one-hop it. I got it in there.”

The city council in Star City, Ark., the little town where Lance Gasaway lives, proclaimed it “Mystik Dan Month.” Tens of thousands of Mystik Dan trading cards were printed to be passed around at Oaklawn’s simulcast of the Preakness.

“It’s a big deal for Arkansas,” Lance Gasaway said.

“I didn’t think there’s anything better than the Derby,” Brent Gasaway said, “and we still haven’t come up for air on that one yet, but we’re getting close.”

Added B.J. Harris, Lance Gasaway’s fiancee: “Like they said, we’re still trying to come down off the win in the Derby. But we’re going to come down for sure, so we can win this one.”

Mystik Dan had what McPeek described as a light gallop Friday morning under former jockey Robby Albarado.

“He didn’t need anything complicated,” McPeek said.

IMAGINATION – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert made his first appearance at the Pimlico Stakes Barn Friday morning after flying to Baltimore from Southern California Thursday.

And he liked what he saw in Imagination, who will represent the Baffert barn in the 149th running of the $2 million Preakness Stakes (G1) on Saturday.

Imagination, owned by SF Racing LLC and partners, galloped 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Humberto Gomez.

“He looks fine, I really don’t have any excuses for him,” Baffert said of Imagination, the 3-1 second choice on the Preakness morning line behind Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mystik Dan (8-5). “He should run well.”

Imagination has two wins and two seconds in four starts this year. In his last race, he was second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), beaten a neck by Stronghold, who went onto finish seventh in the Kentucky Derby.

The son of Into Mischief will be ridden by Frankie Dettori in the Preakness. Baffert has not come out and said that Imagination will be on the lead in the Preakness. He has been close to it in all six of his career starts. He has four seconds, three of them being losses by a neck.

“If he gets out there by himself, I don’t know what he would do and how he would react,” Baffert said. “I am going to leave it up to Frankie. He’s on his own.”

Early in the year, Baffert had Triple Crown prospects like Nysos and Maymun and Muth leading his 3-year-old division. With all of them on the sidelines, Imagination has become the top active 3-year-old in the barn for now.

“His races have been good, but he needs to separate himself,” Baffert said. “He has not done it in his last races. He just hangs in there with them. Off his last work (six furlongs in 1:11.80 on May 10 at Santa Anita) I was very encouraged the way he is starting to realize that it’s OK to take off. He likes to get with a horse and then stays with them.”

Baffert owns the record for most Preakness wins with eight. He had a strong hand heading into this one as he also had Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Muth pointed to the Preakness, but he was declared out of the race on Wednesday after spiking a temperature of 103.

If Baffert is going to get No. 9, he needs Imagination to run the race of his life.
“He is going to have to step it up a level to be there with them,” Baffert said. “I am hoping this will be his coming out party race. We need him now with Muth out. We really, really need him badly.”

Baffert did say that Muth, who was the original morning-line favorite for the Preakness before being scratched, is doing better after the illness KO’d him from the race.

“He is sick,” Baffert said. “The blood work definitely said he has an infection going on, but the blood work was better today, so he is going in the right direction.”

CATCHING FREEDOM – Albaugh Family Stables’ Catching Freedom, fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), went to the racetrack at Pimlico Race Course at 6 a.m. Friday for a routine gallop in preparation for Saturday’s $2 million Preakness Stakes (G1).

“He looked very good,” said assistant trainer Blake Cox, who has overseen the training of the Louisiana Derby (G2) winner at Pimlico for his dad, trainer Brad Cox.

Blake Cox said it had yet to be determined if Catching Freedom will train Preakness morning.
“We’ll see how he schools today. He’s going to school with the first race again. He was really good yesterday. But we’ll see how he is today and if we need to take the edge off of him (in the morning),” he said. “We’ll play it by ear.

“He’s been coming off the track bucking and squealing,” he added. “He’s as happy as he can be.”
TUSCAN GOLD – The more Jose Hernandez sees of Tuscan Gold, the more confident he is getting as the 149th running of the $2 million Preakness Stakes (G1) is now just a day away.

Hernandez, an assistant to trainer Chad Brown, has overseen the training of Tuscan Gold since he arrived at Pimlico Race Course on Tuesday.

The son of Medaglia d’Oro galloped 1 ¼ miles Friday morning at Pimlico, the last time he’ll see the track before going to post in the Preakness Saturday. Tuscan Gold was ridden by exercise rider Janiel Rosado on Friday.

“He has been handling the track really well. He did fine again today,” Hernandez said. “We didn’t ask him to do anything more than he has been doing. He is just very focused right now. I am really confident going into the race.”

Tuscan Gold, who is owned by William Lawrence, Walmac Farm and Stonestreet Stables LLC, will be making his fourth career start in the Preakness.

It is the same formula Brown followed when he won the Preakness in 2017 (Cloud Computing) and 2022 (Early Voting) with horses with only three-race experience.

Hernandez said that Tuscan Gold will just walk the shedrow on Saturday morning. The son of Medaglia d’Oro will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, who has been aboard in two of Tuscan Gold’s three career starts. In the last one, they finished third in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 23.

JUST STEEL, SEIZE THE GREY – Newly elected Hall of Fame jockey Joel Rosario returns to the saddle on Just Steel in Saturday’s 149th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
Rosario has been up on the son of Justify five times and guided him to both of his wins for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The native of the Dominican Republic replaces Keith Asmussen, who finished 17th with Just Steel after attending a hot early pace.

“First of all, what we’re doing is we’re trading for a little more experience,” Lukas said. “Joel has been here, rides here, knows the track. We’re trying to take a little edge, trying to improve our position a little bit and get a realistic pace. I don’t blame Keith for the Derby. That that was one of those things that happens in races. I feel like Joel will probably put us in a position to maybe win this thing if we’re good enough.”

Rosario was elected to the Hall of Fame this year, his first time on the ballot. He has an 0-4-1 record in nine tries in the Preakness. Overall, at Pimlico Race Course, Rosario has won 25 of 108 starts, 23.1 percent. Rosario’s runner-up finishes were Ride on Curlin, 2014; Tale of Verve, 2015; Everfast, 2019; and Epicenter, 2022.

Jaime Torres retains the mount on MyRacehorse’s Seize the Grey, whom he rode to victory in the Pat Day Mile (G2) on May 4.

Lukas said that both of his colts went to the track Friday morning for routine exercise.
UNCLE HEAVY – For his first try in the Preakness Stakes (G1), trainer Butch Reid Jr. was able to hire five-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to ride Uncle Heavy.

Reid and Ortiz have a long relationship that goes back to the summer of 2012, about 12 months after the native of Puerto Rico began riding in New York.

“One of his first Grade 1 wins was on a horse of mine, Poseidon’s Warrior in the Vanderbilt up in New York,” said Reid, who is based at Parx in suburban Philadelphia. “I think it was two years ago when he broke the stakes record. He equaled that at Mahoning Valley, believe it or not, and then he broke the record back on one of my horses back in New York. I don’t know what our win percentage is, but I think it’s pretty good.”

It is. Entering this weekend at Pimlico Race Course, Ortiz, 31, has won six times on 29 mounts for Reid, 20.7 percent. He has a 6-7-4 record riding for the Parx Hall of Famer, an in-the-money rate of 58 percent. Ortiz’ win on Poseidon’s Warrior in the A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga was his second career Grade 1. It came a couple of weeks after he secured the first on Questing in the Coaching Club American Oaks. The winner that gave Ortiz the record for most stakes victories in a year was Reid’s Dr B in the Go for Wand (G3) in December 2022.

Ortiz will replace Mychel Sanchez, a top rider at Parx, who was up on the colt in his first five races.
“Mikey Sanchez is a fine rider, and he and I are certainly going to keep doing business,” Reid said, “but Irad is Irad and he’s got the experience in these big situations. I think that was really the difference in making the call.”

Uncle Heavy will be the fourth Pennsylvania-bred to run in the Preakness since Smarty Jones prevailed in 2004 – Hard Spun, third in 2007; Norman Asbjornson, 11th in 2011; and Chase the Chaos, fifth last year.
Ortiz is still seeking his first Preakness victory. He is 0-2-0 from five starts in the 1 3/16-mile Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

Reid said that Uncle Heavy went out to the track for routine morning exercise Friday.

MUGATU – Average Joe Racing Stables Ltd. and Dan Wells’ Mugatu went to the Pimlico Race Course track Friday morning for a light gallop in preparation for a start in Saturday’s $2 million Preakness Stakes (G1). Former jockey Robby Albarado, who rode Swiss Skydiver (2020) and Curlin (2007) to Preakness victories, was aboard the Jeff Engler trainee after performing his galloping duties on Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and Preakness Stakes (G1) morning-line favorite Mystik Dan earlier in the morning.

Mugatu will be the first Preakness starter for Engler, who has been living his dream for the past 15 years.
The Cincinnati native worked on a quarter horse farm for a summer when he was 14.years old before taking a different career path.

“That’s where the bug bit me,” Engler said. “Then, I went on to college and worked in corporate America for 16 years, Luckily, for me, I did well enough that one day I said, “You know what? I’m going to go on and do what I want to do.’’’

He started his new career in Thoroughbred racing with one horse, a $500 purchase.

“Then I picked up Average Joe Racing a month later,” said Engler, who was in medical-equipment sales before moving on to company management.

“Literally, one day I was driving home and said, ‘That’s it,” Engler recalled.

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