Preakness 2024: Kentucky Derby champion Mystik Dan returns to track as trainer’s optimism grows

BALTIMORE — Mystik Dan returned to the track Wednesday for the first time since he won the Kentucky Derby, jogging and then galloping as trainer Kenny McPeek continues to assess his fitness for a possible run in the May 18 Preakness Stakes.

“He’s doing great,” McPeek told reporters at Churchill Downs afterward. “I suspect we’ll make a [Preakness] decision over the weekend, or even as late as Monday. But more than anything, I just want to make sure he’s moving good and eating good and happy. And at this stage, I like what I see.”

McPeek was cautious the morning after the Derby, saying he was not ready to commit to the Preakness and noting that Mystik Dan ran poorly when he came back on 13 days’ rest as a 2-year-old. The Derby and Preakness are two weeks apart, a condensed schedule that has dissuaded more and more Derby trainers from bringing their horses to Pimlico Race Course for the second leg of the Triple Crown in recent years.

McPeek’s tone has shifted to greater optimism over the last few days as he’s watched Mystik Dan’s appetite and energy rebound, but he continues to say he won’t rush to a decision on Preakness, with the entry deadline looming Monday.

“I’ve said it repeatedly: An old guy told me long ago, ‘Never make a decision until you absolutely, positively have to,’ ” McPeek said. “If he’s healthy, we’re not scared to go. If we feel like he needs more time, he’ll get it. It’s all gray; it’s not black and white.”

He added that the 1 3/16 mile distance of the Preakness (which McPeek won in 2020 with the filly Swiss Skydiver) might suit his horse better than the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby.

Mystik Dan won the Derby in a scintillating three-way photo finish. If he were to run in the Preakness, he’d face a field of well-rested contenders, led by the Bob Baffert-trained pair of Muth and Imagination.

Several other contenders have joined the list of probables for the $2 million Preakness in recent days. The only Derby horse currently committed to the race is 17th-place finisher Just Steel, trained by six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas, who also plans to enter Seize the Grey.

Lukas feels Just Steel has a better race in him after the quick early pace in the Derby wiped him out. “It was too much, much too early,” the 88-year-old trainer said.

Mugatu, fifth-place finisher in the talent-stacked April 6 Blue Grass Stakes, is also pointed toward the Preakness. “We were a little frustrated we didn’t get into the Derby,” trainer Jeff Engler said. “We feel the more distance the better for this horse. I do like the mile and 3/16, so we’re going to head up.”

Uncle Heavy, fifth in the April 6 Wood Memorial at New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack, joined the Preakness field Wednesday.

Copper Tax, winner of the April 20 Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park, remains a possible entrant.

149th Preakness Stakes

— Pimlico Race Course

— Saturday, May 18, approx. 6:50 p.m.