Preakness Preview: Mage Evolves From Underdog To Target

Mage | Sara Gordon

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Onward to Baltimore! Here are the GI Preakness S. entrants listed in “likeliest winner” order.

1) Mage
GI Kentucky Derby winner Mage won't be a heavy favorite on Saturday. In fact, he projects as the possible second choice in the betting based on the “fresh competition” angle in a Preakness that will feature no other starters who ran in the 18-horse Derby.

Pari-mutuel value notwithstanding, a Preakness victory is within the grasp of this white-blazed, chestnut son of Good Magic ($235,000 KEESEP; $290,000 EASMAY). He's a lighter-framed colt who might not have taken the pounding that a bigger runner would have in a demanding race like the Derby. And in the eight-horse Preakness, he figures to be more in touch with the pace, and will likely not have to give up as much real estate (four wide on the far turn before floating to the eight path) as he did in the Derby.

We've now seen Mage uncork two consecutive, sustained, late-race bids against Grade I competition. One was a slightly premature move in the GI Curlin Florida Derby that catapulted him to the lead, only to be reeled in by the vastly more experienced divisional champ Forte (Violence). The other was a more measured move under Javier Castellano in the Kentucky Derby in which Mage went from 11th to second between the five-sixteenths and the three-sixteenths poles before zeroing in on a tiring (but not quitting) leader while being kept to task under hand-hustling though the final furlong and a half.

Mage's 105 Beyer Speed Figure stands out as at least seven points better than any number his rivals have run so far, but it remains to be seen whether that rating holds up. It was 11 points higher than Mage's previous best, and to fully embrace it, you have to have faith that the 2-3-4 finishers in the Derby also realistically upped their Beyers by 4-10-10 points.

2) National Treasure
The draw of post one, the addition of blinkers, and the continued partnership with one of the game's premier front-end riders all point to John Velazquez seeking the lead in the Preakness with National Treasure.

This $500,000 FTSAUG son of Quality Road sports a past-performance block anchored by mid-90s Beyers and company lines featuring heavy divisional hitters. But there are also some gaps in his training, most notably time missed in early March because of a quarter crack that caused this colt to pass on an expected start in the GII San Felipe S.

Although he wasn't finishing with the authority of the top trio in the GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, National Treasure's fourth-place effort there can serve as a useful bridge to a better effort at 1 3/16 miles considering the nine-furlong try was his first race in three months.

Trainer Bob Baffert has saddled seven Preakness winners. Five of them were Kentucky Derby winners. The two who weren't both were beaten Derby favorites: Point Given (2001) and Lookin At Lucky (2010).

National Treasure | Jim McCue

3) First Mission
This Godolphin homebred by Street Sense debuted too late to make a run at Derby qualifying points, so after breaking his maiden at Fair Grounds in start number two on Mar. 18, his connections opted for the 1 1/16-miles GIII Stonestreet Lexington S. at Keeneland.

First Mission went off favored at 2-1, rolling out of the gate alertly, then conceding the lead while attaining inside position. He started to inch up 4 1/2 furlongs out over a short-stretch configuration, then reeled in an opening-up pacemaker who twice put him in tight at the fence through the stretch.

First Mission prevailed by half a length (98 Beyer), but it was the visual appeal of how he refused to be by intimidated by the more experienced Arabian Lion (Justify) that contributed to this colt being bet down to the 6-1 second choice in the Preakness future wager.

On Saturday you can get a better read on the Lexington S. by seeing how 2-5 morning line fave Arabian Lion runs in Pimlico's fourth race, the $100,000 Sir Barton S.

4) Perform
Perform required six starts to break his maiden, but since tasked with two turns for the first time, he's 2-for-2. This $230,000 KEESEP colt by Good Magic has also tangled with Mage once before, having run fourth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths by the eventual Derby winner, when that colt broke his maiden at Gulfstream back on Jan. 28.

Perform broke through with his first victory on the GIII Tampa Bay Derby undercard over one mile 40 yards, and both the second- and fifth-place finishers from that race came back to graduate in their next starts.

Let go at 10-1 odds in the $125,000 Federico Tesio S., Perform dropped out to last and looked unlikely to even hit the board on the far turn, lingering near last after a dueling duo had set a tepid pace and opened up by five turning for home.

Weaving through the pack, jockey Feargal Lynch switched Perform off heels of tiring rivals not once, but three times through the Laurel homestretch, at the three-sixteenth pole, the eighth pole, and again in the run up to the wire. The result was a head victory, and although the 85 Beyer came back a little light, this could be an example of “how he did it” resonating more than “how fast” in terms of overall impression.

“I hope we're finishing with Mage and can outkick him,” said Hall-of-Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. “But I think that just the two turns on the dirt, the distance, the mile and three-sixteenths, the timing is pretty good. We've got plenty of time in between races. He had a good work here last Sunday with Lynch on him, and that's what made up my mind that, along with his owners, to say, 'Let's give it a chance.'”

Red Route One | Jim McCue

5) Red Route One
Red Route One has stamped himself as a capable one-run closer from far back. That means he's going to be picking off horses late, but how many runners he passes in the stretch is largely going to be at the mercy of the pace. The faster they go up front, the better the finish for this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred.

By Gun Runner out of a Tapit mare (same cross as stablemate and 'TDN Rising Star' Disarm, who was fourth in the Derby), the potential for later development has always figured in Red Route One's progress. Recall that his sire ran third in the 2016 Derby, finished on the board in a series of graded stakes into the summer and fall, but didn't truly burst onto the scene until after the Breeders' Cup, when he won the GI Clark H., and then seven of his eight final races against top-class competition.

Red Route One has run respectably over firm and good turf, plus sloppy and fast dirt, so he handles various types of footing quite well. He went 7 1/2 months between his first and second lifetime victories, but closed with abandon to score in the $200,000 Bath House Row S. at Oaklawn, which was the Plan B option after failing to make the qualifying points cut for the Derby.

6) Blazing Sevens
Blazing Sevens ($140,000 KEEJAN; $225,000 FTSAUG), the third son of Good Magic entered in this Preakness field of eight, is the real handicapping conundrum among the trio. He hasn't won since the Oct. 1 GI Champagne S., yet his last two efforts have a “can't be as bad as they look” vibe about them.

Through his first five career tries, Blazing Sevens won twice and was beaten by champ Forte the other three times. Racing for the first time since the Breeders' Cup in the GII Fountain of Youth S., this colt got pinballed early and was never a factor, finishing eighth while beaten 26 lengths.

Stretched to nine furlongs in the Apr. 8 GI Toyota Blue Grass S., Blazing Sevens ran a so-so third, with the impression of that result blunted by the arresting stretch battle of the two dominant horses who finished six lengths ahead of him.

Blazing Sevens qualified for the Derby based on points, but was withdrawn by trainer Chad Brown to instead aim for the Preakness. Those skip-the-Derby tactics worked well for Brown in 2017 and 2022, when he won Baltimore's big race after opting out of Louisville with Cloud Computing and Early Voting, respectively.

Bettors who had a nose for that trend sniffed out 21-1 odds in the Preakness future wager, which is significantly higher than the 6-1 morning line ranking for Blazing Sevens.

Blazing Sevens | Jim McCue

7) Chase the Chaos
Chase the Chaos (Astern {Aus}) started his career in Minnesota, winning at Canterbury on the grass before running credibly over Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields in early winter.

One of his two wins there, in the Feb. 11 El Camino Real Derby (lifetime best 82 Beyer), gave him an automatic berth into the Preakness. But this $10,000 KEENOV gelding has been seventh and eighth in two starts since then.

He was outgunned in his only lifetime try over fast dirt in the Mar. 4 GII San Felipe S. at Santa Anita, then was the beaten 5-2 fave when returning to Golden Gate for the Apr. 29 California Derby.

8) Coffeewithchris
The Preakness is always a little more interesting with a Maryland-bred long shot in the mix, and Coffeewithchris fits the bill as this year's local hopeful after having sold for $2,000 as an EASOCT yearling.

This gelding has been steadily competing in the series of sophomore stakes on the Maryland circuit, and he most recently raced to the front in the moderate-paced $125,000 Federico Tesio S., where he held well under pressure until upper stretch before regressing to fifth.

But they'll be going a bit quicker in the Preakness, and the 88-85-82 downward arc of the last three Beyers for Coffeewithchris doesn't bode well for his chances.

His sire, Ride on Curlin, finished second in the 2014 Preakness at 10-1 odds behind California Chrome. He competed in all three Triple Crown races (7th, 2nd, 11th), yet concluded his 22-race career never having won beyond six furlongs.

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