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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108 Responses to “A New Set of Foes for Mage”

  1. JOE DERBY says:

    Hey STEVE I just read your report from Thu 5-18 just saw it Tuesday at 2:30 am you nailed it talking all that good stuff about NATIONAL TREASURE and BLAZING SEVENS So how bout a shout out for Blazing Sevens and National Treasure. Great stuff again Steve I Love rubbing that stuff in to the fellows at the OTB in SHORELINE,WA. To anybody that trying to say that you don’t know what your talking about. JOE DERBY OUT. Only 50 more weeks til the KENTUCKY DERBY

  2. Matthew W says:

    It wasn’t long ago we were forced inside by a virus…..children lost two school years, elderly lost their lives, and now people that took the booster shots are suffering all kinds or odd maladies, during the lock downs HORSE RACING came through! Society broke crazy but Horse Racing came through—We live in times where a typical Chicago day has ten shooting murders, but the front and center headline is “A Horse Dies…”…

  3. Roberta Greevey says:

    I’m ashamed that I have an addiction to horseracing. I’ve “quit” many times and never does my absence last more than a few weeks. I’m leaving it once more. The deflection to the media’s reporting is laughable. The media are describing what’s happening. Everyone here is too invested in the game/industry to see that horseracing is cruel, or they know it but repress their feelings.

    • biggy312 says:

      Agree 100% I have very conflicted feelings about the industry now and have also quit here and there in the past. I don’t know what will happen in the future for US horse racing, but, for the first time in my life, I would be more than ok if it were eliminated completely here…the horses welfare is much more important…

    • Matthew W says:

      I attended the LA County Fair, at Pomona and the old half mile non banked track, around 1979, on closing day . ..very hot and they couldn’t keep the track adequately watered—in 12 races there were 13 horse fatalities—-this was ONE DAY…..if you think Horse Racing hasn’t gotten BETTER…..then that time, where there were far more horse fatalities and horses had whipping scars, on their hips….then you do need to go, because you are no longer part of any solution, you emphasize the cup being half empty…..there has recently been two Del Mar Summer meets with zero horse deaths on the track, because THEY ARE TRYING…..

      • biggy312 says:

        The fact that the sport was more harmful in the past doesn’t have anything to do with the state of the sport today: whether I support or not doesn’t make me part of the problem or solution. I don’t think you are making the point you think you are! You can go ahead and support or not: I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to tell you what to do, and, of course, you have no right to tell me whether to stay or go!

    • Davids says:

      Roberta, I would say most racing enthusiasts are like you, they are conflicted that the sport they adore also has a dark, cruel edge to it. I financially support aftercare programs as a means of absolving my guilt while adding voice/strength to various statements etc that are intent on improving horse racing around the world. Moreover, I have friends/relatives who have more clout than I so I nudge them as well.

      It’s better to be in a battle fighting for good than walking away in frustration. We’d have made all the giant whales extinct by now if all people did was walk away saying whaling is so cruel instead of battling the whaling nations. Roberta, fight for the improvements in the sport you love don’t leave.

  4. Lynda King says:

    The story is in the headlines:

    CHD sees 8th horse death as Rio Moon euthanized at home of Kentucky Derby

    Preakness 2023: Worry over deaths pervades as horse racing turns it eyes to Baltimore

    Another horse dies from catastrophic injury at Churchill Downs

    As 148th Preakness approaches, a grim trend greets Maryland

    Mage wins star-crossed Kentucky Derby amid 7th death

    Why are so many racehorses dying?

    Baffert back from ban, wins Preakness with National Treasure after another horse euthanized

    Baffert wins Preakness with National Treasure; Havenameltdown euthanized

    National Treasure wins Preakness hours after other Baffert horse euthanized

    Baffert’s National Treasure wins Preakness as another horse death mars the sport

    “What are these dark days I see?
    In this world so badly bent
    I cannot redeem the time
    The time so idly spent
    How much longer can it last?
    How long can it go on?”
    Lyrics from Bob Dylan’s “Crossing The Rubicon”
    Rough and Rowdy album, released in 2020

    Has horse racing in the United States and the modern American Thoroughbred both crossed the Rubicon?

    Is stretching out the Triple Crown races to as long as 4 weeks apart the only solution to accommodate horses that need weeks to recover from one race?

    If the answer is yes, then the Rubicon has been crossed and there is no going back.

    How long can racing go on in America at this rate?

    Has the fate of horse racing in the United States finally been sealed with greed for both speed and dollars?

    If the answer is yes, then there are only dark days ahead for both the sport and the horses.

    • Todd Vaughn says:

      Good post , Lynda. I won’t delve into my concerns for the fate of racing or many other things, because i end up in a diatribe, but you also may enjoy Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet.” A little more personal, but same idea.

    • Deacon says:

      I am not an expert Lynda but perhaps some of the answers are hiding in plain view.
      Horses being bred for speed, not for endurance. The use of drugs & other types of medications.
      Thoroughbreds have relatively thin walls & sole around their feet. Perhaps all of the inbreeding has caught up to the modern times.
      Mostly I believe it is the human factor. Lets get these kids on the race track, win a few million & off to the breeding shed.

      I didn’t agree with all of your post Lynda but I do believe it was well said.

    • Matthew W says:

      I think it a bit unfair and thus unfortunate….about your bundling up what are separate instances, Havingameltdown stumbled at the same time he wah bumped hard in front, a very fast horse that got a very rough break….we don’t know this was anything more than tragically bad luck, and his handlers were sincere, in their grief….not all horse deaths can be prevented, THATS what made this so tough..

      • Lynda King says:

        Matthew W, I think you missed the point I was making.

        These headlines were taken directly from news sites.

        I did not make them up nor did I bundle them as you suggest.

        These headlines are what non racing fans see in their newsfeeds.

        CNN, Washington Post, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, ESPN NPR

        The narrative here is being controlled by the media that for the most part is against horse racing.

        Several of these outlets included graphic photos with their headlines.

        The non racing public is not going to take the time to go below the surface to learn that a horse was bumped hard, stumbled and fractured an ankle…just the same that can happen to a human athlete.The human can undergo surgery to repair the ankle, be put in a vast, heal in a few months, undergo rehab and be good as new. They interpret a horse in a race as being forced to run by being whipped and jacked with drugs.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          What do CNN, Washigton Post, NBC, MSNBC, and NPR have in common?

          • SJ says:

            They’re not BB sycophants, unlike the NBC telecast crew. BTW, you left out Fox, as Lynda pointed out. Hmmm.

          • Lynda King says:

            Organizations that give credibility to PETA, Horse Racing Wrongs, American Humane Society and other animal rights extremist groups.

        • Matthew W says:

          Yes I know, Linda, I pass people with signs outside Santa Anita, I even talked with one gut who had a “No way to treat animals” sign, as he was eating a 40-pack of chicken nuggets….

    • John Goggin says:

      Lynda, I agree with you. Besides the Churchill Downs racehorse deaths there were three deaths at the Keeneland spring meet or the 13 deaths already this year at Laurel.
      But according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database ‘2022 was the lowest for racehorse deaths since they began keeping these statistics years ago and the last six months of 2022 was the safest six months on record’.
      Racehorse deaths are down 35% in the mid Atlantic region after a cluster of deaths happened at Aqueduct in 2011, deaths are down 79% in Santa Anita from 2019-2022 and Pimilico deaths are down 85%.
      Perhaps horseracing hasn’t crossed that ‘point of no return’. Yet, at least.

      • Lynda King says:

        Yes John, racehorse deaths as the result of catastrophic skeletal breakdowns are trending down.
        The Jockey Club starting tracking these deaths as I recall in 2009 and through 2022 there has been an across the board decrease of 4% based on racing starts.
        The JC credits these decreases to improved safety on the race tracks and enhanced drug testing and vets clearing horses to race.
        Some of these stats that are being reported from other sources include deaths from other causes such as sudden cardiac arrest, colics, diseases, laminitis, ruptures of the aorta and kissing spine.

  5. Ms Blacktype says:

    Steve’s post discussed the possibility of tweaking the schedule of the triple crown races, which is certainly of the moment as the last horse to run in all three races was Preakness winner War of Will in 2019.

    Even though it’s been the standard for decades, the five-week schedule hasn’t always been fixed in history (the Preakness used to precede the Derby — by a week — for many years before the 1930s. I’ve heard various suggestions on having a month between all three races, but I think that’s too much.

    My suggestion: hold the Derby on the first Saturday in May, then hold the Preakness THREE weeks later, followed by the Belmont FOUR weeks later (late June). That places all three races in a seven-week period that could potentially be more rigorous than the current five-week span.

    • John Goggin says:

      Commentator (s) on the the national broadcast suggested that the Derby held on the first Saturday in May, the Preakness the first Saturday in June and the Belmont the first Saturday in July yesterday.

      • Jiffy says:

        Yes, whenever there is a classic race on NBC, that particular commentator finds it necessary to go on and on and on about his wish to reschedule the Triple Crown. Whether you agree or disagree, we’ve heard it many times before and it gets very tiresome. I’m glad Fox is doing the Belmont so hopefully we won’t have to put up with that again.

        I see the tragic horse deaths and the Triple Crown as two totally different issues. Rescheduling the races wouldn’t have saved a single one of those horses. Only Wild on Ice was a classics contender, and he was preparing for the Derby, which nobody wants to move, anyway. Every effort must be made to find out why so many horses died and presumably there will be issues to address, but I don’t think the Triple Crown will be one of them.

        As for the scheduling of the classics, I favor leaving things the way they are. A few years ago people were advocating change on the grounds that the Triple Crown had become impossible. Then American Pharoah and Justify proved them totally wrong. After that, COVID taught us what happens when you move races. The current schedule has served us well for many years, and I’d like it to continue for many more.

    • Laura Lee Lanham says:

      I personally disagree. They don’t race enough as it is. It is supposed to be hard for a reason. They would be better off in my opinion looking at the current point system. I think it could use some tweaking.

      What is going to be of more concern right now is the number of horses that have died recently racing at these tracks. The Baffert colt yesterday was tragic, compounded by the jockey getting tossed and running loose. Haven’t heard how the jockey is. Not sure what else could have been done there. We are still waiting on results from Kentucky. This sport is in trouble.

      • Ms Blacktype says:

        I wish there was something obvious to do to stop the deaths, but they are endemic in American racing. Two horses die every day at U.S. racetracks. That’s based on statistics from a report done several years ago. These recent deaths are on the radar because a couple of the horses were high-profile and the deaths occurred at high-profile tracks.

        Plenty of horses are over raced (probably the majority of them), but not the elite ones. Where is the line between a truly competitive sport where the best of the best always step up to the plate and a sport where horse deaths are rare? I don’t have the answer.

  6. fuzzi says:

    You called it, Steve, just not in the order of finish: National Treasure, Blazing Sevens, Mage, and Red Route One.

    I really like Blazing Sevens, he has a lot of tenacity.

  7. Matthew W says:

    I don’t know about the Derby winner, but the Preakness winner is heading for Elmont for The Belmont! Johnny V need outsider help to pull him up, yesterday…..

  8. John Goggin says:

    Congrats to National Treasure, team Baffert and of course Johnny V. Actually, this now makes the second time that NT has finished ahead of Blazing Sevens…last November’s BC Juvenile…NT finished third while BS finished fourth.

  9. Demolition Derby says:

    Blazing Sevens was the better horse today, should have won. Going 2-3 paths wider all the way around was the difference.

    • Jiffy says:

      He ran farther; therefore he ran faster. But with the outside post and the way the race shaped up, I don’t think it would have been feasible to go to the inside. I think he did what he had to do and did it well, but not quite well enough.

    • Jimmy says:

      Thank the overrated IRAD!