June 21, 2024

Mystik Dan’s road to the Triple Crown might be taking a detour before the Preakness Stakes. Kenny McPeek, trainer of the Kentucky Derby winner, said Sunday morning that he has not committed to going to Baltimore to race May 18 after the horse seemed a little off after Saturday’s victory.

“We’re not committed to the Preakness,” McPeek said. “I ran him back once in two weeks and it completely backfired on me.”

One thing that trainers use to gauge a horse’s fitness is how they eat. In short, an empty feed bucket means a happy horse.

“Most trainers don’t talk about all this,” McPeek said. “Look, cards on the table, face up. He left three-quarters of his feed. We couldn’t hardly get everybody out of the barn until midnight, so he didn’t really get a great night’s rest. We’ll watch him today and tomorrow.”

At this point it is closer to a coin flip more than anything else if Mystik Dan will run in the Preakness. There is no need to take any chances with a colt whose breeding value jumped exponentially after winning the Kentucky Derby by the slimmest of noses.

“The back story on that [two-week reference] is that I ran the colt back too quick in November,” McPeek said on Saturday night before knowing about Sunday’s development. “He won really easy in his maiden race and I wanted to stretch him out and it was the end of the season.

Mystik Dan trainer Kenny McPeek raises the trophy with his family after winning the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Mystik Dan trainer Kenny McPeek raises the trophy with his family after winning the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

(Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

“I ran him back in an allowance race going a mile and he coughed up a lung infection on me. Learned a little lesson there with him. I feel if a horse is doing good and we can win a race, let’s give it a run. That one backfired.”

McPeek said a decision might not be made until next Monday when entries are taken for the Preakness. It’s not unusual for a horse to be shipped to Baltimore on the Wednesday before the race.

“We’re going to have a lot of input,” co-owner Lance Gasaway told Horse Racing Nation. “It’s all about the horse. Let’s see how the horse comes out of the race. Give him two or three days. If he comes out good, we’ll look at it. If not, we’ll worry about the horse more than anything.”

If he doesn’t go, it will spoil his rematch with Muth. Mystik Dan finished third in the Arkansas Derby while Muth won it. But Muth was not eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby because he is trained by Bob Baffert, who is in the third year of a ban that was originally set at two years. Churchill Downs barred him from its properties after Medina Spirit tested positive for a legal medication that is banned on race day after winning the 2021 Derby. Baffert has had no horses fail a test since then.

Baffert is expected to also enter Imagination, who finished second in the Santa Anita Derby to Stronghold, who finished seventh in the Derby. Baffert has won the Preakness eight times, including last year with National Treasure.

If Mystik Dan does not go to Baltimore it would heighten the conversation about the relevance of the Preakness Stakes at a time that most horses don’t come back on two weeks’ rest. The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, just turned over Pimlico Race Course to the state of Maryland but still retains the intellectual properties of the Preakness Stakes.

Aidan Butler, chief executive of its racing division, has been floating ideas that the Triple Crown should be retooled with each race held a month apart rather than two weeks from the Derby to the Preakness and three weeks from the Preakness to the Belmont. This could certainly bolster his argument.

There is no doubt that current training patterns do not favor a two-week turnaround. Last year there was only one Derby horse that ran in the Preakness, the only one that mattered, Derby winner Mage. The previous year, Rich Strike skipped the Preakness. In 2021, Medina Spirit ran in the Preakness and finished third. The Derby result was overturned and Mandaloun was declared the winner, so technically the Derby winner was not in the race.

In 2020, the COVID year, the Preakness was held in October and the Derby winner, Authentic, was in the race. The Derby was run in September.

A survey of most of the other trainers by Churchill Downs media relations could not find any takers ready to go to Baltimore. The jockey for T O Password, Kazishi Kimura, indicated on Saturday that he thought the horse could go to the Preakness. But the people who pay the bills have him headed back to Japan.

“He’s good this morning, no problems but he is tired,” Kimura said. “It is what it is. He missed the first step and from there I followed Sierra Leone. He tried hard all the way.”

The second-place finisher, Sierra Leone, will be skipping the Preakness.

“He’s good, but he’s not going to the Preakness,” trainer Chad Brown said. “I’m going to take him to Saratoga tomorrow and he’s going to train there for the Belmont [Stakes]. He’s a little tired. He’s a real laid back horse but when we brought him out, he was a little more tired than he normally is after his races. I think giving him the five weeks to the Belmont is definitely the right thing to do.”

Regardless if Mystik Dan runs in two weeks, he’ll also be headed back to Saratoga, where McPeek has a home.

McPeek now has a career Triple Crown having won the Preakness in 2020 with Swiss Skydiver and the Belmont in 2002 with Sarava at 70-1 odds.

Will McPeek now start to get doubles on his career Triple Crown? The thinking is the answer lies in the feed bucket.

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