Mystik Dan Confirmed for Arkansas Derby, Catching Freedom Possible

Mystik Dan | Coady

Trainer Kenny McPeek confirmed that GIII Southwest S. winner Mystik Dan (Goldencents) is pointing for the GI Arkansas Derby Mar. 30. McPeek said Mystik Dan returned to the Fair Grounds shortly after his eight-length victory in the Southwest, which was postponed a week because of winter weather.

According to McPeek, the 21-day return to the GII Rebel S. factored into McPeek's decision to train Mystik Dan up to the Arkansas Derby. McPeek originally sent Mystik Dan to the Fair Grounds to prepare for the Southwest after arctic temperatures, snow and rain halted training at Oaklawn for 11 days (Jan. 13-23). Mystik Dan recorded three published workouts at Oaklawn–Dec. 23, Dec. 29 and Jan. 12–before heading south.

“He's doing well,” said McPeek, who has divisions at Oaklawn and Fair Grounds. “I skipped a breeze with him this weekend because the track was horrendous, and he'll get teed up for the Arkansas Derby in the next month.”

McPeek indicated Mystik Dan's upcoming works in advance of the Arkansas Derby will be in New Orleans.

“He might come up, like, a week early to work over the track or he may come a few days before the race,” McPeek said.

Mystik Dan kicked off 2024 with a fifth-place finish, beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Catching Freedom, in the Smarty Jones S. Jan. 1.

According to trainer Brad Cox, the Arkansas Derby is also a possibility for Catching Freedom (Constitution).

“Very pleased with the effort,” Cox said. “It looks like he came out of it well.”

Cox won the 2022 Arkansas Derby with Cyberknife and last year with Angel of Empire, who, like Catching Freedom, is owned by Albaugh Family Stables.

“I think right now everything's in play–the Arkansas Derby, Louisiana Derby [Mar. 23], Blue Grass S. [Apr. 6],” Cox said. “I might even throw the Wood [Memorial, Apr. 6] in there. Don't think we would do the Florida Derby or the Santa Anita Derby. But those four races will be on his radar, and we'll pick the one we're thinking makes the most sense. Obviously, he ran well in Arkansas. That gives us some confidence if that's the route to go.”

Catching Freedom (25 points) and Mystik Dan (21) rank fifth and sixth, respectively, on the latest Kentucky Derby leaderboard released by Churchill Downs. The Arkansas Derby offers 200 points (100-50-25-15-10, respectively) to its top five eligible finishers toward Kentucky Derby.

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