A New Set of Foes for Mage

If you’re looking to hit a big score in the Preakness this probably isn’t the race for you with the short field, a big favorite, and several interesting horses who probably will take a lot of money. I will be putting some minimal wagers on the race, but petty much watching it to see if the Mage Cinderella story can continue and we can look forward to seeing him try for the Triple Crown in three weeks. ~ Steve Haskin

A New Set of Foes for Mage

By Steve Haskin


A great deal of the talk surrounding the Preakness Stakes has been the reluctance of every trainer with a horse in the Kentucky Derby to come back in two weeks to face the victorious Mage. This is not about the Preakness as much as it is the mentality of trainers today. Todd Pletcher and Brad Cox are not going to run back in two weeks, especially with the latter having a shiny new weapon in his arsenal to run against Mage, and the two Japanese horses as expected have headed back home. That is half the Derby field right there.

Confidence Game and Disarm, two horses who would have been serious contenders, were originally on the list of possible Preakness horses, but Confidence Game backed out as usual for whatever reason and it was decided to give Disarm more time after the rush job to get him in the Derby, especially with his connections having Red Route One in the Preakness. So now we’re down to only six horses who backed out and they were all at the back of the pack in the Derby. So that’s just how it worked out this year.

Now let’s get to who is running and if there is anyone who can beat Mage. This is far from a strong field for a classic and it would seem that Mage only has to run back to his Derby, or even regress a little, to capture the second leg of the Triple Crown.

The overwhelming second choice and the horse given the best chance to upset the favorite is Lexington Stakes winner First Mission, trained by Brad Cox. It certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise if he were to win, as he looks like a talented and improving colt. But the fact is, for a horse likely to go off at 5-2 or 3-1, he beat Arabian Lion by a half-length in the Lexington and Arabian Lion, once highly regarded, has been a big disappointment this year, finishing out of the money in his only two stakes appearances before the Lexington. And third-place finisher Disarm was thrown into the race only to pick up points to get into the Derby.

Needing only to finish third, he was not cranked up for this and got what he needed without being ridden hard. So now we will see just how good First Mission really is.

So, is there any way to make money on this Preakness? The answer to that question could very well lie in the start. With only eight horses, you don’t want to see Mage drop to the rear of the field this time. We know he has early speed and this is the race for him to use it. The reason is the presence of the Bob Baffert-trained National Treasure, a colt with speed who hasn’t shown it since his career debut when he blazed an opening half in :44 1/5. He is now back with Baffert after his brief stay with Tim Yakteen; he drew the rail; and he gets blinkers on. And the only horse in the field who consistently runs on or near the pace, Coffeewithchris, doesn’t have the pure speed of National Treasure. That spells potential trouble for the closers, as there is nothing more dangerous than a Bob Baffert horse loose on the lead. And his jockey, John Velazquez, has already stolen two Kentucky Derbys for Baffert with Authentic and Medina Spirit.

Looking at National Treasure’s past performances, he has come from off the pace in all his stakes races, but twice he had to chase his stablemate Cave Rock, arguably the fastest 2-year-old in the country last year. What you won’t find in the past performances is the fact that on three occasions this year National Treasure worked in company with the speedy Reincarnate. All three times he was put on the lead and all three times he finished ahead of his stablemate, even refusing to let him go by on the gallop-out. And his last two works by himself were sensational, especially his six furlong drill in 1:11 1/5. So now with the rail and blinkers on and Baffert wanting nothing more than to knock off the Derby winner, you can be sure we will see a big effort from National Treasure. And Mage sure does not want to let him get too far in front.

As for the closers they most likely are running to pick up a piece of it unless something wild happens up front or we get an off track. All the experts I’ve seen have latched on to the Shug McGaughey-trained Perform based on his electrifying stretch run in the Federico Tesio Stakes, and all have dismissed Blazing Sevens because he could not sustain his run in the Blue Grass Stakes, finishing a well-beaten third. But looking deeper into that performance, he was coming off one race and that was an inexplicably bad effort in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in which he did no running at all at any point in the race. So basically he hadn’t had a race in five months, made a big move around the far turn and simply got tired in the stretch. Even with that he ran a “3” Thoro-Graph number, which equaled his career best number in his Champagne victory. Because of his drastic leap from a “15” in the Fountain of Youth to a “3,” trainer Chad Brown decided to skip the Derby and give him an extra two weeks. He’s been working lights out and I see no reason why he shouldn’t move forward offf that race and run well enough to finish in the first three.

So how about a shout out for Blazing Sevens and National Treasure; the two horses with back class at 2 who made it here from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Red Route One has always been a horse for whom I have had high regard, but he will need a pace collapse to win. However, he will be running at the end.

The bottom line is that Mage appears to outclass this field, but we will see how he bounces back in two weeks, how he breaks, and how far he lets National Treasure get ahead of him. This doesn’t look like a get rich quick race, with First Mission a solid second choice and National Treasure and Perform likely to get bet down, so I would look to box Mage, First Mission, National Treasure, and Blazing Sevens, hoping the last named can sneak in there at a price. Or you can box Mage in the exactas with Blazing Sevens, Perform, and Red Route One, again looking for a price. But all in all this is not a great betting race, so why not just root for Mage and have a horse trying for the Triple Crown.

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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