A thrilling finish in the 150th Kentucky Derby saw Kenny McPeek’s longshot Mystik Dan barely hold off the oncoming Sierra Leone and Forever Young at the wire. Two weeks later, we get an interesting edition of the Preakness that sees Mystik Dan attempt to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive.

This year’s race is once again headlined by Bob Baffert, who enters a pair of runners that were not eligible to race at Churchill due to his extended ban there from a violation three years back. His Arkansas Derby winner Muth gives him the best chance to win and add to his record eight Preakness victories after National Treasure gave him another Woodlawn Vase last year.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas also enters a pair that will take aim at Mystik Dan, as he looks for his seventh Preakness victory and first in eleven years. Just Steel pressed the pace in the Kentucky Derby before fading to 17th, while Seize the Grey posted a 9-1 upset in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard.

Baffert’s duo figures to factor into the lead from the break, as Lukas’ Just Steel should be shuffled in behind them. The pace shouldn’t be as quick as the Derby, but a smaller field here will allow for closers like Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Catching Freedom and Withers winner Uncle Heavy to navigate traffic easier than at Churchill.

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With a good balance between speed and ground savers, this race can break a multitude of ways and offer plenty of combinations for exotic plays and superfectas for those betting. Mystik Dan will also need to answer the question that follows most unexpected Derby winners: Was it a one-off effort or a sign of things to come?

He faces off once again with Muth who bested him in the Arkansas Derby, and looks to become the first Derby-Preakness winner since Justify in 2018.

The post time for the 149th Preakness Stakes is 7:01 PM EDT as the thirteenth race on Pimlico’s Saturday card.

The Picks

1. #4 Muth (8-5)Sits winning trip to give Baffert ninth Preakness win (Update: Muth was scratched on Wednesday after spiking a fever.)

2. #3 Catching Freedom (6-1) Strong outing in Kentucky Derby

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3. #5 Mystik Dan (5-2) Derby winner got the nod after dream trip

4. #2 Uncle Heavy (20-1)Closing sort compromised by trip in last

Horse-by-horse analysis

Kentucky Derby alternate Mugatu works out at Churchill Downs Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Louisville, Kentucky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel/AP)

1. Mugatu (20-1)

Trainer: Jeff Engler

Jockey: Joe Bravo

Breeding: Blofeld – Union Way, by Union Rags

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Owner: Average Joe Racing Stables Ltd. and Dan Wells

Lifetime Record: 12-1-1-3

Most Recent Race: 5th, Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes

An also eligible entry into the Kentucky Derby, this colt was not able to draw into that field after a distant fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass at Keeneland at odds of 181/1. Mugatu only has one win in his 12 career starts (tied with Just Steel for the most starts of this group), and that was a maiden victory in his fifth try. He has shown some improvement recently even if it isn’t resulting in wins, but typically leaves far too much ground to make up, especially against better horses.

Maybe the added distance will benefit this colt, but with his running style and past performances, the best he can hope for is a strong finish where the leaders fade in the stretch. He should be the longest shot on the board, but this one needs an unlikely scenario to hit the board or finish in the top four.

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LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 04: Domestic Product jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. looks on following the 150th Kentucky Derby. Ortiz will ride Uncle Heavy in Preakness. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

2. Uncle Heavy (20-1)

Trainer: Robert E. Reid Jr.

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Breeding: Social Inclusion – Expect Wonderful, by Tiz Wonderful

Owner: Michael Milam and LC Racing LLC

Lifetime Record: 5-3-0-0

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Most Recent Race: 5th, Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes

After underwhelming in the Wood Memorial, this Pennsylvania-bred didn’t qualify for the Kentucky Derby, instead sitting out for this opportunity. His win in the Withers at Aqueduct showed a nice closing kick running into a slow pace, while he had too much to do and a troubled trip in the Wood Memorial.

To have any chance at a good effort here, there might need to be a quicker pace that falls apart, allowing this mid-pack closer to gain in the stretch. A win doesn’t seem likely, but closing into third or fourth is possible if the Baffert trainees are pressed by one of the two Lukas colts. His best race, in the Grade 3 Withers, doesn’t compare well with the top efforts from the favorites, so there would need to be a considerable step forward to finish close to the leaders in this spot even if he runs well and gets the right set up and positioning from jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 03: Catching Freedom trains on the track during morning workouts ahead of the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. (Photo by Justin Casterline/2024 Getty Images) (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

3. Catching Freedom (6-1)

Trainer: Brad Cox

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Breeding: Constitution – Catch My Drift, by Pioneerof the Nile

Owner: Albaugh Family Stables LLC

Lifetime Record: 6-3-0-1

Most Recent Race: 4th, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby

This improving colt by Constitution made a strong closing move into fourth in the Kentucky Derby, rallying from 15th by 8 1/2 lengths to only losing by 1 3/4 lengths. Catching Freedom ran a good race and enjoyed a trip similar to that of Mystik Dan, slipping through along the rail in upper stretch.

There might need to be more pace to close into than it appears is available here to move him forward. Still, as a Grade 2 winner in the Louisiana Derby, Catching Freedom enters as one with a bit more upside than most others in this group, and has seen a consistent uptick in speed figures in all of his six starts. A favorable set up and continued steps forward might give him winning chances, and at the very least he should be able to once again finish in the top four. This Brad Cox trainee is still a clear top contender in this spot.

Trainer Bob Baffert won the 2023 Preakness with National Treasure. This year he'll saddle Muth and Imagination. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

4. Muth (8-5)

(Update: Muth was scratched on Wednesday after spiking a fever.)

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Juan Hernandez

Breeding: Good Magic – Hoppa, by Uncle Mo

Owner: Zedan Racing Stables Inc.

Lifetime Record: 6-4-2-0

Most Recent Race: 1st, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby

A comfortable winner of the Arkansas Derby, Muth was ineligible to run at Churchill due to Baffert’s ban there for the last three years. He has never finished worse than second in six career tries.

Muth finished over six lengths ahead of Mystik Dan in Arkansas, and has the overall best resume of any runner here prior to the Derby. He was sold as a 2-year-old for $2 million dollars, reflecting racing talent which has already been demonstrated in three graded stakes wins.

Muth will likely sit behind fellow Baffert trainee Imagination in the early going here, and would prefer slower fractions to be able to handle the added distance. Controlling modest fractions in the Arkansas Derby enabled him to easily have enough to get nine furlongs. His main challenge here would be if the pace heats up a bit more than expected, and leaves him tiring late for the deeper closers to take advantage. Still, this colt remains the top choice and most likely winner.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 04: Mystik Dan #3, ridden by jockey Brian J. Hernandez Jr. (R), crosses the finish line ahead of Sierra Leone #2, and Forever Young, to win the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

5. Mystik Dan (5-2)

Trainer: Kenny McPeek

Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.

Breeding: Goldencents – Ma’am, by Colonel John

Owner: Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing LLC, Daniel Hamby III, and Valley View Farm LLC

Lifetime Record: 7-3-1-1

Most Recent Race: 1st, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby

Following a distant third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby to Muth, this McPeek trainee was able to narrowly hold on in a thrilling Kentucky Derby stretch run as an 18-1 longshot. With a perfect ground-saving trip hugging the rail by Brian Hernandez Jr., Mystik Dan took advantage of a solid early pace to steal the race from the late-charging Sierra Leone and Forever Young.

The result wasn’t a complete surprise, given that Mystik Dan had shown a top-tier performance in Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes in early February that compared favorably to the rest of the Derby field. He hadn’t shown that form in any other race in his career, however, and may have benefited from a slightly wetter surface that had seen rain the day before.

Mystik Dan will need an even better performance here to cross the finish line first with the chances of getting as perfect a trip this time around being slim. The pace may not be as sharp as in Kentucky, which could push him a bit closer to the lead than he was at Churchill. Finishing well behind Muth in Arkansas could also be a concern here, and there may end up being a few in this group who have a stronger turn of foot at this distance. Mystik Dan did begin to tire in the late stretch last time, so maybe slightly less distance is better here, but with Muth entering as well as the improving Catching Freedom, this spot may end up being even more difficult than his Derby win turned out to be.

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 4: Seize the Grey with Jaime Torres up, wins the G2 Pat Day Mile for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images) (Horsephotos/Getty Images)

6. Seize the Grey (15-1)

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Jockey: Jaime Torres

Breeding: Arrogate – Smart Shopping, by Smart Strike

Owner: MyRacehorse

Lifetime Record: 9-3-0-3

Most Recent Race: 1st, Grade 2 Pat Day Mile Stakes

Seize the Grey put forth his best effort to date in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard, pulling away in the stretch after sitting on quick early fractions. Maybe he isn’t the best suited to add distance here but still seems to be trending in a better direction than his stablemate Just Steel.

Seize the Grey has yet to be truly competitive against the top 3-year-olds in the country, taking advantage of a weaker field last time out. If he is able to adjust to this distance with a forward trip, this could be one of the best value plays to hit the board.

A win isn’t the most likely outcome as he is still a notch below Catching Freedom, Muth, and Mystik Dan in terms of his top efforts, but with a slower pace than he experienced last time, a decent finish could be in order here. Jockey Jaime Torres will need to keep him involved early as he has done his best running from mid-pack to right off the lead. Seize the Grey and Just Steel may not be the best Lukas trainees in the Preakness, but their involvement from the break could largely determine the outcome for others coming from off the pace in this race.

Kentucky Derby entrant Just Steel works out at Churchill Downs Thursday, May 2. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel/AP)

7. Just Steel (15-1)

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Breeding: Justify – Irish Lights (AUS), by Fastnet Rock (AUS)

Owner: BC Stables LLC and Henry Schmueckle

Lifetime Record: 12-2-4-1

Most Recent Race: 17th, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby

Just Steel was the only runner who finished strong with Muth in Arkansas, coming up two lengths short. Before that try, this colt by Justify hadn’t done his best running going past a mile, and appeared overmatched in the Kentucky Derby when he faded into 17th. His two wins to date are at six and 6 1/2 furlongs.

Just Steel was up on the pace in the Derby, and all runners close to the early pace collapsed, so that could be a bit of an excuse for his performance. This colt typically puts his best foot forward even if it doesn’t result in a win and should be better in this smaller field with a likely softer pace. He will likely be placed off the leaders in third or fourth, behind Muth and Imagination early with a chance to finish strong if the fractions are slower.

Just Steel could be played on the bottom of exotics if the value is right, but winning here would take an unlikely scenario, especially at this distance.

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 21: Trainer Chad Brown celebrates after winning the 147th Preakness Stakes with Early Voting. This year he will saddle Tuscan Gold. (Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images) (The Washington Post/The Washington Post via Getty Im)

8. Tuscan Gold (8-1)

Trainer: Chad Brown

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Breeding: Medaglia d’Oro – Valadorna, by Curlin

Owner: William H. Lawrence, Walmac Farm, and Stonestreet Stables LLC

Lifetime Record: 3-1-0-1

Most Recent Race: 3rd, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby

After only two maiden tries, this Chad Brown trainee was entered into the Louisiana Derby and went off at relatively modest odds of 11-1. Considering his lack of experience, finishing third in that try against stronger competition showed some of the upside for this onetime $600,000 yearling.

Tuscan Gold would need to show considerable improvement to be a win contender here in just his second stakes try, and may have benefited from more modest fractions in Louisiana. With the proper set up, maybe this ends up being a good value play for the bottom of exotics, or is simply one that is still maturing and needs more time to win at this level. If he goes off around his morning line odds, it may be best to look elsewhere for value, but anything over 10-1 deserves attention in supers and trifectas.

Trainer Bob Baffert walks to the winner’s circle after National Treasure won the 148th Preakness Stakes. This year he will saddle Muth and Imagination. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

9. Imagination (6-1)

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Frankie Dettori

Breeding: Into Mischief – Magical Feeling, by Empire Maker

Owner: SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Dianne Bashor, Robert E. Masterson, Waves Edge Capital LLC, Catherine Donovan, and Tom J. Ryan

Lifetime Record: 6-2-4-0

Most Recent Race: 2nd, Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby

Most recently a runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby, this “other” Baffert trainee may end up the pacesetter here, but he does have some questions at this distance. He has never finished worse than second in six tries, but after a narrow win in the San Felipe against a lesser field, Imagination fought with Stronghold down the stretch in the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby, but wasn’t able to beat him at the wire. The early fractions were quick, though, and he could be more of a threat if he and Muth aren’t pressed by a longshot in the first half mile.

Still, the slew of second place finishes is concerning for his winning potential, and he may be pace-dependent running further than he has before. Definitely one that can hold on in the money in most scenarios, but also faces the toughest test of his career which could lead to a less than desirable result as the secondary entry to his more talented stablemate.

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