Mage, left, with Javier Castellano up, wins the 149th Running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6, 2023, at Churchill Downs.
The Preakness Stakes will be run Saturday at Pimlico, and Kentucky Derby winner Mage will try to take the second step in earning a Triple Crown. Of the three races, the Preakness is the easiest to win.
Mage will have just seven challengers, and none from the Kentucky Derby. Sure, sometimes a late developer wins (Early Voting last year, Rombauer in 2021 and Cloud Computing in 2017), but over the last 10 Preaknesses run in sequence (2020 excluded when the race was run after the Belmont), seven winners ran in or won the Derby. Four won both races.
In 2019, War of Will ran seventh in the Derby before winning the Preakness. In 2016, Exaggerator ran second in the Derby to Nyquist before turning the tables. Justify (2018), American Pharoah (2015), California Chrome (2014), and I’ll Have Another (2012) all won both races.
The other winner in that stretch, Oxbow (2013), ran sixth in the Derby. Horses often hold their form in the two weeks between the races. So all signs point to Mage taking the Preakness. And there is little competition to challenge him.
National Treasure, trained by the controversial Bob Baffert, has shown flashes (including a better than it looks on paper Santa Anita Derby) but has just won win in his career. Red Route One just won a lesser stake at Oaklawn, but his speed figures are well below the top two. Blazing Sevens is trained by Chad Brown, who knows how to win this race. First Mission won the Lexington at Keeneland and is trained by Brad Cox, whose horses tend to hold their form when they get good. The rest is full of field fillers.
Another thing in Mage’s favor is that this is a very weak crop of 3-year-olds. Other than Forte, who scratched the day of the Derby, this is reminiscent of the year Justify won the Triple Crown. Plus, Forte and probably Tapit Trice – bred to win the Belmont – will be waiting in New York.
But that is a conversation for then. Almost all signs point to Mage on Saturday. Would it be good for the sport to have another Triple Crown bid? Probably not. With all the controversies and conspiracies, horse racing is losing its luster. You really want to fix it? Do what Mattress Mack does and race drug-free.
Another conversation for another time. But Mage will seek to take the second jewel and has a lot in his favor to do it.