Jack’s Picks For The 2024 Preakness Stakes, Maryland’s Biggest Horse Race

Written By Jack Flaherty on May 17, 2024
A Preakness Stakes contestant, Imagination, during a practice run at Pimlico Race Course

This year’s edition of the Preakness is one of the most interesting in recent races.

We have several serious players in this strong field of now eight, having learned of the scratch of the #4 pony Muth. Three horses are coming off a short two-week break after running in the Kentucky Derby, including Champion Mystik Dan.

That means the balance of the field includes five“new shooters” who passed up the Derby and are therefore well rested.

The Derby and Preakness people are quite conscious of each other and can be jealous of the other side. One contention is which track has the best infield crowd: the Derby or the Preakness. I have been reliably informed that the Maryland horse racing fans have more fun.

Until 2009, Pimlico Race Course permitted a BYOB policy for the general admission infield. However, this was discontinued after video showed several instances of people having too much fun (damn cell phones). The next year, attendance dropped from over 100,000 to 77,000. Serious horse people, no doubt.

Previewing The 2024 Preakness Field

Below are the eight entrants by their post position, projected odds, and trainer. Keep in mind that with Muth’s scratch, the post numbers may be adjusted. Below the pony’s name is a number, their Best Beyer number. This is a speed rating indicating the fastest the horse has raced in his lifetime. A 100 Beyer is very good, but an 82 Beyer is not.

1. Mugatu (20-1)

Trainer: Jeff Engler
Best Beyer: 87

He was 5th in the Bluegrass Stakes and has one win in 12 starts. He has had three starts on dirt and has not made the board (top-4) in any of them. Not sure this guy belongs here.

2. Uncle Heavy (20-1)

Trainer: Robert Reid
Best Beyer: 84

His most recent result was a very mediocre 5th-place in Wood. Additionally, an 84 Best Beyer doesn’t inspire me.

However, there may be a slight glimmer of hope. In his only stakes victory, The Withers, he ran in the mud. Uncle Heavy also has often suspended jockey Irad Ortiz Jr riding him. Ortiz is known for his liberal use of the stick, but I don’t think even a cattle prod can get this guy first to the line. His camp should pray for rain.

3. Catching Freedom (7-2)

Trainer: Brad Cox
Best Beyer: 97

Catching Freedom finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby. He ran a good race, but not great. He shuffled back early and had a lot of work to do to get back to 4th, but only a length or so behind the winner.

This guy never runs a bad race, and he tries every time. Cox is a top trainer, although he seldom enters his ponies in the Preakness because of the two-week break after the Derby. The fact that he has this guy here tells me something.

Catching Freedom is a classic closer, which means he needs somebody to set a quick first-half-mile pace. With Muth out, that task might fall to #9 Imagination.  Freedom’s biggest challenges would be a slow early pace and the short rest. At 7-2 or thereabouts, he still shows value. This is my pick to win

Muth – Scratched Wednesday

Note: Check for adjusted post numbers before you wager due to the Muth scratch.

Post positions will simply be compressed.

5. Mystik Dan (5-2)

Trainer: Ken McPeek
Best Beyer: 101

Is Mystik Dan the new favorite with Muth scratched? I don’t know about that yet. In his last race, he won the Kentucky Derby, getting a great ride from his jockey.

Then, he struck luck when the inside lane near the rail opened up for him like the Red Sea. This was while his two closest rivals, Sierra Leone and Forever Young, were brawling with each other for 200 yards in the middle track, with Dan leading on the rail, by himself, tip-toeing through the tulips without a care in the world.

Then, he only won by 3 inches. Sunday Silence, he is not. Before that, Dan was just a so-so third in Arkansas, finishing four lengths behind rival Muth. I didn’t bet him at 16-1, so I don’t expect to wager on him at these odds.

But take note: Dan’s best race, earning that 101 Beyer, was in the slop at the Southwest. If it rains Saturday, that changes everything. Fans of the Sport of Kings will be rooting for him.

6. Seize the Grey (15-1)

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Best Beyer: 88

His best race was his last, the Pat Day Mile. Can he go longer? Not sure, but his 88-year-old Hall-of-Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, seems to think so.

On the other hand, D. Wayne has always been an optimist. How do you think he’s made it this far? 88 years old and still going strong. He’s like a classic Oldsmobile I once had.

His problem is this horse may not want to go that far, and Grey is not very fast when he does run. Too many proven distance ponies in this race for me to tinker with a sentimental pick.

7. Just Steel (10-1)

Trainer: D.Wayne Lukas
Best Beyer: 95

He finished 17th at Louisville when caught up in a suicidal early speed dual and either the jockey or the horse could not hold back. That can happen when 150,000-plus people are screaming at you. It’s also called temporary insanity.

Steel had a solid second before that in Arkansas, earning his respectable 95 Beyer. He might have a chance if the horse and jockey can run a more rational race. This is the better of the two D. Wayne Lukas ponies.

8. Tuscan Gold (5-1)

Trainer: Chad Brown
Best Beyer: 95

This is the guy many people are worried about. He only had a so-so third-place in Louisiana, but he has proven himself to be a player with his 95 Beyer.

His trainer is Chad Brown, a two-time winner of the Preakness. Both times, he held his horses out of the Kentucky Derby to rest them and better prepare for the Preakness. Sometimes, that feels like cheating, keeping a qualified horse out of a race to set up an ambush in the next. But that’s just me.

9. Imagination (7-2)

Trainer: Bob Baffert
Best Beyer: 96

Baffert’s other pony, who we didn’t see in Kentucky due to the trainer’s drug suspension. This guy is alone now that his soul-brother stablemate, Muth, is out.

I projected him as the only speed early, but perhaps Baffert has other ideas now. My big gun, Catching Freedom, needs an early, quick pace, but I’m unsure who will volunteer. On the other hand, in the negative case of getting what you wish for, Imagination might decide to rabbit out and not look back.

I will tell you one thing: Preakness has become more interesting.

Jack’s Preakness Picks

Below are my prospective Preakness bets. I prefer straight bets: win or place (first or second). I have not placed a straight show bet in 30 years other than in the required triples. To show is to come in third or better.

My philosophy is that if you like a horse enough, bet him to finish first or second. Showing puts you in a separate pool from the unwashed and forsaken.

This race is tough. I must stay away from Imagination since I loathe the trainer. Muth’s defection brings in Just Steel as a mid-longer shot.

I might play a few triples with Muth gone, keying No. 3 Catching Freedom (to win) with 5 Mystik Dan, 7 Just Steel, and 8 Tuscan Gold. Along with a trifecta box with the same horses.

The Muth scratch opened up the betting. Imagination might win, but I don’t fear him.

Additional wagers I plan to make:

  • A dominant win bet on No. 3 Catching Freedom.
  • A lesser win bet/place bet on No. 7 Tuscan Gold.
  • An exacta box with No. 3 and No. 7.

If it rains and the track is off, then No. 4 Mystik Dan comes more into play.

May your Preakness be joyous and profitable.

Photo by AP Photo / Julio Cortez
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Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty independently represented manufacturers in the Middle East and Africa for 29 years and is a lifelong horse racing fan who, on two occasions, successfully bribed the National Guard with cheap beer and hopped the fence to attend the 1974 and 1975 Kentucky Derby. Jack currently resides in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

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