Muth, Imagination Please Baffert with Preakness 149 Tune-Up

May 10th, 2024

McPeek Expects to Decide Mystik Dan’s Preakness Status Saturday
Cox Evaluating Catching Freedom for Possible Preakness Run
Lukas Has No Plans to Breeze Just Steel before Middle Jewel
Uncle Heavy Named in Tribute to Trainer Butch Reid Jr.’s Brother

BALTIMORE, MD – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s candidates for the 149th Preakness (G1) May 18 at Pimlico Race Course, Muth and Imagination, had their final timed workouts in preparation for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, covering six furlongs in tandem in 1:11.80 Friday morning at Santa Anita Park.
“They went five-eighths and they went out three quarters and they look good,” Baffert said. “They stayed together like last week. It was a nice, workmanlike work and I was happy with it.”

Muth, owned by Zedan Racing Stables, secured his second Grade 1 victory in the March 30 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Imagination competes for the partnership of SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Dianne Bashor, Robert Masterson, Waves Edge Capital LLC, Catherine Donovan and Tom Ryan. In his most recent race, he was second by a neck to Stronghold in the April 6 Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Baffert is the most successful trainer in Preakness history with eight victories in 26 starts. Five of those wins came with horses that won the Kentucky Derby and continued on to Baltimore. However, Baffert said he frequently did move on to the Preakness with runners that did not do well at Churchill Downs in the opener of the Triple Crown series.

“There’s some horses that didn’t get a chance to run in the Derby that it took a week for them to bounce out of it,” Baffert said. “If they’re doing well, run them in the Preakness. I’ve been lucky and horses that didn’t run well, they got wiped out or something, and they came back. It’s sort of, like, to prove that, ‘Look, he was the best horse in the Derby,’ and that’s your chance to validate it. It happened with Point Given. It happened with Lookin At Lucky. Those two horses validated that they were the best of their crop.”

Last year, National Treasure was Baffert’s first Preakness winner that did not run in the Derby. Muth and Imagination are new shooters in the Preakness, too, because Churchill Downs did not allow Baffert to enter horses in the Derby.

Muth and Imagination are scheduled to ship to Pimlico Race Course on Tuesday. Juan Hernandez, Muth’s regular rider, will have the mount in the Preakness. International star Frankie Dettori will ride Imagination in the third-consecutive race.

McPeek Expects to Decide Mystik Dan’s Preakness Status Saturday

Trainer Kenny McPeek said the final decision on whether Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mystik Dan runs in the 149th Preakness Stakes May 18 at Pimlico Race Course should come Saturday after the colt trains at Churchill Downs and after he speaks with the owners.

Mystik Dan is owned by Lance Gasaway, 4G Racing, Daniel Hamby III and Valley View Farm.

Signs have been increasingly favorable that Mystik Dan will go in Baltimore’s $2 million Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Regardless, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. said he has other stakes mounts Preakness Weekend that will have him riding at Pimlico Race Course.

The Derby winner had a second day of galloping under former jockey Robby Albarado Friday morning. McPeek said he might have Mystik Dan pick up the pace through the stretch Saturday.

“Another steady day, another good day,” McPeek said. “Robby was happy. He ate up. We’ll discuss it in depth tomorrow (Saturday). We usually walk Sundays. When I say more, just a nice gallop, maybe let him stretch a little down the lane. Nothing complicated. Only what he wants to do.”

Albarado said Mystik Dan felt better Friday than Thursday, when he got aboard the Goldencents colt for training for the first time since before the Arkansas Derby (G1), in which the Kentucky Derby winner finished third to likely Preakness favorite Muth.

“Every day is a progression for him,” Albarado said. “He’ll get back in his rhythm soon. He’s so easy to predict. I knew after the first day that the second day’s better, the third day. He felt really good. All his leads were on point. He enjoyed being out there.”

Albarado’s career spanning 5,222 victories include the 2007 Preakness with two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and in 2020 COVID-delayed Preakness with the McPeek-trained filly Swiss Skydiver. Beyond being classic victories, they both provided vindication of sorts for Albarado.

Curlin, in only his fourth career start, finished third behind Street Sense, ridden by his longtime pal Calvin Borel, and Hard Spun in the 2007 Derby. Curlin wore down Street Sense in the stretch to win by a head two weeks later in Baltimore. Three weeks later in New York, Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Rags to Riches and jockey John Velazquez edged Curlin by a head after a protracted stretch duel to become the first filly in 102 years to capture the Belmont Stakes (G1) .With Swiss Skydiver, Albarado was able to beat Velazquez and Kentucky Derby winner Authentic by a neck in similar fashion.

“There’s not nearly as much pressure as you have going into the Derby,” Albarado said of the Preakness. “There’s so much pressure in the Derby on everyone, trainers, jockeys. The Preakness is laid-back. You’ve got a much-smaller field, obviously. I love the Preakness. I won it twice there. I won (the 2003 Pimlico Special) on Mineshaft there. I’ve won some nice races there, and I just enjoy being around it. Pimlico people, Baltimore people love the race there. I’m really excited about him going there.

“That was really Curlin’s coming-out party. (Trainer) Steve (Asmussen) obviously knew he had an extreme amount of potential and was destined for greatness,” he added. “But he had to put it all together. The Preakness was the race where people noticed he was a good horse. That was a good 3-year-old year. Street Sense. Hard Spun. Any Given Saturday. I don’t like saying her name, but Rags to Riches.

“(Swiss Skydiver’s) Preakness was special in a lot of ways. In 2007, Johnny Velazquez beat me on a filly in the Belmont. Thirteen years later, I was able to get back at him in the Preakness on a filly. Same margin of defeat. That felt kinda good.”

Cox Evaluating Catching Freedom for Possible Preakness Run

If Albaugh Family Stables’ Catching Freedom hasn’t yet talked trainer Brad Cox into running in the 149th Preakness Stakes (G1) May 18 at Pimlico Race Course, the Louisiana Derby (G2) winner is at least chirping in his ear.
Catching Freedom had a spirited gallop Friday morning at Churchill Downs, an example of the training that has nudged Cox from not considering the $2 million Preakness to putting the 1 3/16-mile classic on the table.

“I’d say it’s possible,” Cox said. “We enter on Monday so we’re going to watch him through the week. He had a nice gallop this morning. I’m happy with the way he came out of the Derby from a soundness standpoint. Everything is going super.”
Catching Freedom, with Flavien Prat in the saddle, closed from 15th to finish fourth in the May 4 Kentucky Derby (G1), two lengths behind triumphant Mystik Dan.

“We prepared him for what we hoped was the race of his life in the Kentucky Derby,” Cox said. “I thought he ran very well. The (speed) figures we got out of the Kentucky Derby stacked up with his Louisiana Derby figures, so we felt we got a good effort out of him. The risk is running him back in two weeks and maybe jeopardizing a lot of the other races we could look at moving forward. I don’t know that. But we are asking a lot of him over a span of two weeks. But we’ll watch him through the weekend and make a decision.”

Cox said the alternative to the Preakness would be waiting for Churchill Downs’ June 9 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) as a steppingstone to Monmouth Park’s July 20 Haskell (G1). A lesser possibility could be waiting for the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on June 8.

“The reward would be winning a Grade 1,” he said of the Preakness. “It’s a classic. If someone asks you if you’d rather win the Preakness or the Haskell, you’d rather win the Preakness. My immediate thought after the Derby was ‘no Preakness.’ As we look at the group of horses, it’s a solid group, and first and foremost is how he’s doing. We do like what we see from him. That’s one reason why we’re entertaining the idea of running.”
Asked if a factor is the competition, Cox said, “Sure. From the probables we’ve seen, I think he stacks up with them. There’s nobody to run from.”

The fact that Catching Freedom had six weeks between the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby now works in their favor, Cox said. “We’re looking at it as three races in eight weeks, as opposed to three races in six weeks if he’d been in the Blue Grass or Wood.”

Did hindsight reveal a way that Catching Freedom could have earned a better placing in the Derby?

“I thought he got a great trip. I can’t really see anything that would have said, ‘Oh, if we’d done this…’” Cox said, adding with a laugh, “Maybe if Brian Hernandez wouldn’t have ridden Mystik Dan as well as he did, or maybe if Sierra Leone and Forever Young weren’t as good as they are, we would have gotten there. That’s what I’m going to go with. So, to answer your question, no. No excuse. I love the way Flavien rode him. He had a good trip, broke and was a little bit more involved than I think a lot of people thought he’d be. But bottom line, he was the fourth-best horse that day.”

Lukas Has No Plans to Breeze Just Steel before Middle Jewel

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said that he doesn’t think he will breeze Just Steel between his 17th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and his scheduled next start in the Preakness Stakes (G1) May 18 at Pimlico Race Course..

Lukas, 88, has saddled six winners from 46 Preakness starters since 1980 and said he makes his decision on an individual basis on whether to breeze horses between races. Just Steel chased the pace early in the Derby and tired in the stretch. Lukas’ other Preakness horse, Seize the Grey, won the Pat Day Mile (G2).
“I’ve done it both ways. In my Preakness winners I’ve tried different things,” Lukas said. “You have to read the horses and both of these horses came back very, very well. In fact, Just Steel is actually seems sharper to me this week than he did the prior week to the Derby. So what we’ll do is just monitor him every day. It’s a day-to-day decision when training horses. You read, and see what you think they need and don’t need. So I probably will let him extend himself a couple of days, but I don’t think I’ll work him. I think he had a hard six furlongs in that race. And I think I won’t work him, but he’ll go to the track every day and he is sharp. So we’ll play it day by day.”

Uncle Heavy Named in Tribute to Trainer Butch Reid Jr.’s Brother

These is little doubt that Uncle Heavy has the most distinctive name of the horses headed to the $2 million Preakness Stakes (G1) on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course.

The Pennsylvania-bred trained by Butch Reid Jr. is named for Reid’s older brother, Mark, who spent 46 years in racing as a trainer and bloodstock agent. Mark Reid retired in 2022 at the age of 72 with 1,821 victories. Mark Reid was a heavyweight wrestler at the University of Maryland and became known as “Heavy” when he went to work on the track.

“That was my brother’s original nickname back from when he worked for Dickie Dutrow back in the 70s,” Butch Reid said. “He picked it up there and then the family kind of picked up on it. Then the nieces and nephews started calling him Uncle Heavy and it kind of stuck.”

Mark Reid’s wife, Barbara, is listed as the breeder of Uncle Heavy, a son of Social Inclusion, who was third in the 2014 Preakness.

Butch Reid said that, in retirement, his brother remains connected to racing.

“He’s still got some mares out on his farm in Chester County,” Butch Reid said. “He stays up on it. We talk a couple of times a week. He stays involved.

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