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In 2024 Preakness without Muth, can Derby winner Mystik Dan pull off another victory?

Analyzing Preakness favorites after Muth's scratch
After Preakness Stakes favorite Muth was scratched with a fever on Wednesday, Bet the Edge evaluates which horses deserve consideration in a new-look betting landscape.

In the early days of World War II, Winston Churchill described the situation England found itself in as “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” If such a phrase could be applied to a racehorse, it would definitely work for Fierceness, the badly beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby. In my best horseplayer-ese, I can say that he broke my heart and injured my wallet. We won’t see him in this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, and I would not be surprised if his next race isn’t until the late summer or in the fall. The Todd Pletcher barn must be as confused as I am about this talented runner who seems to bounce between great performances and inexplicably bad ones.

Usually in a circumstance like this, favoritism in the Preakness would fall to the Kentucky Derby winner. In this case, however, Mystik Dan was not named the morning line favorite, as he was scheduled to face the Bob Baffert-trained Muth, who beat him by over 6 lengths in the Arkansas Derby. On Wednesday, however, word came out that Muth will not be in the Preakness because he had spiked a fever. Now, almost by default, Mystik Dan will become the morning line favorite. We don’t know what the effects of that bruising stretch battle in the Kentucky Derby will be on Mystik Dan. He IS the Kentucky Derby winner, and for all the speculation about how he can follow up on his performance in that race, he is likely to be favored in the Preakness.

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From a handicapping perspective, it is no big surprise when an 18-1 shot like Mystik Dan emerges from a 20-horse field to win the Kentucky Derby. Most often, however, the Preakness is an entirely different type of puzzle. For starters, this year’s race presents a eight-horse field where only three of those horses (Mystik Dan, Catching Freedom, Just Steel) also ran in the Derby. The other five are new variables, and while some have a legitimate chance to win, others are the equivalent of “seat-fillers” at the Academy Awards.

A serious look at those who ran in the Derby provides logical conclusions. Mystik Dan is a solid horse, but the question is whether he can repeat the great trip up the rail that he got in Louisville. Also, is he an improving horse, or was the Kentucky Derby his peak performance? Catching Freedom is a late closer who had some traffic problems in Louisville, and if he has a hot pace in front of him he could be a major factor in the late stages at Pimlico. Just Steel ran the race of his life in the Arkansas Derby, where Muth beat him by just two lengths. In the Kentucky Derby, however, he got caught up in the early pace and faded to finish 17th. It could be that his Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is willing to give him a chance to prove whether he can run another race comparable to the one he ran in Arkansas.

Preakness Stakes 2024 preview: Just Steel
Drew Dinsick is cautiously optimistic for Just Steel's outlook at the 2024 Preakness Stakes.

From the Barn of Bob Baffert

Muth was one of two horses from the barn of Bob Baffert that were entered in the Preakness. I viewed Muth as a very legitimate contender, but I’m not so sure about the other Baffert entrant, Imagination. I also feel that he could be overbet at the windows just because of who his trainer is. Given the fact that Baffert has won the Preakness a record 8 times, many will presume that he’ll just work his magic with Imagination instead of Muth. Imagination is a nice horse who was purchased as a yearling for over a million dollars. His last race in the Santa Anita Derby, however, did not impress me. Against a soft field, he lost by a neck to Stronghold, who then finished a mediocre seventh in the Kentucky Derby. Imagination’s record of two wins and four seconds in six starts is very nice, but he’ll have to be significantly better than his Santa Anita Derby race to win here.

Preakness Stakes 2024 preview: Imagination
Drew Dinsick expects Imagination to follow fellow Bob Baffert horse Muth in a very possible 1-2 finish at the 149th Preakness Stakes.

Other Preakness Contenders to Watch

Of the remaining four horses in the field, I see two who have room for improvement and two who will be outclassed. I’m not impressed by Mugatu or Uncle Heavy, who seem to be racing over their heads in this spot. The two who deserve a closer look are Tuscan Gold and Seize The Grey. Tuscan Gold comes from the barn of two-time Preakness-winning trainer Chad Brown. He’s a $600,000 yearling purchase who has had just three races in his career, the most recent being a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. His races have been spaced apart nicely, and he could improve enough to be a major player in this race. Like Just Steel, Seize The Grey is trained by Lukas, a six-time Preakness winner, and he was an impressive winner of the Pat Day Mile on Derby Day. It was the best performance of his career, and he could be hitting a peak at just the right time.

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Betting the 2024 Preakness Stakes

How should you bet the Preakness? Because of the small field, I recommend betting more money on less horses. Keys to my betting will be tied to a bet-against gamble. I fully expect that in the absence of Muth, many bettors will go to Baffert’s other horse, Imagination. I’m sorry, but his Santa Anita Derby race simply did not impress me. I will include Mystik Dan and Catching Freedom because their Kentucky Derby performances show that they are solid players here. I will also include the almost-longshots Tuscan Gold and Seize The Grey. I say almost-longshots because anything over 5-1 is a good price in this race which usually has short fields and shorter prices for the winners.

We are prone to saying that the Kentucky Derby is a unique circumstance because of the large field and the fact that we don’t know how these lightly-raced horses will do at the mile-and-a quarter distance. In its own way, the Preakness Stakes provides an equally unique circumstance. Horses who did not compete in the Kentucky Derby provide one element of that uniqueness. Also, can horses such as Mystik Dan provide another outstanding performance just two weeks later? If you zero in on just a few horses and bet them in larger denominations, you can make a nice profit in the Preakness. In a world in which we are prone to “spreading” Kentucky Derby bets among as many as ten runners, I recommend limiting yourself to four or five in the Preakness. Of those five, I would put no more than three horses in the top spot in exactas, trifectas and superfectas. You don’t want to be one of those people who bets $100 on the race, has a winning ticket, and gets back $68 in return. You’ll feel like a winner for a moment, and then you realize you lost over thirty bucks. In summation, this is a race where you narrow your choices and increase the size of your bets because you are dealing with fewer horses. You can win money on the Preakness, as long as you make tough decisions on how you bet. And as the great Kentucky Derby stretch battle proved, sometimes even if you don’t have a winning ticket, as you’ve won by witnessing a great sports event. Have fun with the 149th Preakness Stakes!

How to Watch the 2024 Preakness Stakes

  • Date: Saturday, May 18th
  • Time: Coverage begins at 4:30pm ET
  • TV Network: NBC (Prep coverage kicks off earlier at 1:30pm ET on CNBC
  • Streaming: Peacock