Horse Racing
2024 Preakness Stakes action report: Can Mystik Dan win with Muth scratched?
Horse Racing

2024 Preakness Stakes action report: Can Mystik Dan win with Muth scratched?

Updated May. 15, 2024 3:20 p.m. ET

Editor's note: Muth, the Preakness Stakes favorite, was scratched from the race on Wednesday morning.

With post positions drawn and Preakness Stakes odds now on the betting board, the inevitable annual question remains: Will a Triple Crown be won this year?

It’s all on Mystik Dan’s hearty horse shoulders at the moment. And the Kentucky Derby winner got a big break Wednesday morning, when Preakness favorite Muth was announced out after spiking a fever.

"At first glance, Muth being out likely benefits the front-runners more than anyone, as I don’t think the pace should be too fast early," said Paul Zilm, a horse racing oddsmaker who’s been around the thoroughbred industry for 20 years.


Zilm helps break down odds to win the Preakness Stakes, as horse racing gears up for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Tough Turnaround

Part of the difficult calculus for Mystik Dan, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. and trainer Kenny McPeek: running so soon after an extremely challenging — and hugely entertaining — Kentucky Derby victory.

"Mystik Dan is coming off a tough race, a hard race," Zilm said of the three-horse photo finish at the Kentucky Derby, in which the colt edged Sierra Leone and Forever Young. "He expended a lot of energy, and he’ll have just two weeks’ rest.

Zilm spent five years at Circa Sports, leaving in March after helping craft Kentucky Derby odds. He pointed out that Mystik Dan has run on two weeks’ rest once, winning a 5½-furlong race — about three-quarters of a mile — on Nov. 12, followed by a disappointing fifth-place showing in a 1-mile event on Nov. 25.

"It’s a small sample size. But in the one opportunity to run back so quickly, Mystik Dan didn’t race very well," Zilm said.

Mystik Dan opened as the 5/2 second choice in Preakness odds. In parimutuel odds, he remains at that price until parimutuel wagering opens Friday. But in fixed odds — which are available to bet now at operators such as Circa Sports and Caesars Sports — the new Preakness favorite is shorter than 2/1.

That’s entirely due to Muth no longer being part of the calculus. Muth won the Arkansas Derby in his last race on March 30, and beat third-place Mystik Dan in the process.

But Zilm remains skeptical for Saturday’s 1 3/16-mile Preakness, just a touch shorter than the 1¼-mile Kentucky Derby.

"Even with Muth out, I would still wonder if Mystik Dan can come back at his best on two weeks’ rest. That’s still my biggest question," Zilm said.

On The Plus Side

All that said, the fact remains that Mystik Dan won the Kentucky Derby at 16/1 odds, topping 19 other horses in the first jewel of the Triple Crown. A $100 bet on Mystik Dan would’ve profited $1,600, for a $1,700 total payout.

In the Preakness, Mystik Dan drew the No. 5 post on Monday, with Muth right next to him at No. 4. Now, Mystik Dan moves in one slot to the vacated No. 4 post. And the field drops from nine horses to just eight.

"You’ve got the Derby winner and two other horses from the Derby, and a bunch of new shooters," Zilm said. "Oftentimes, if the Derby winner is a standout horse, the Preakness is the easier of the last two legs to win. In the Belmont, you’ll have horses that ran the Derby, then got a full five weeks of rest, ganging up on you."

And even with the short rest, Mystik Dan has that Derby experience — and victory — and could benefit from a wet track for Saturday’s 6:50 p.m. ET post time. There’s a 79% chance of rain during the day and 69% chance in the evening.

"He’s still the Derby champion and will attract a ton of money in the betting pools," Zilm said. "He’s also proven to run well on a track with moisture in it. So he’s got that going for him, too, should the forecast still call for rain.

"For me personally, Mystik Dan will be a play-against, as his odds just won’t be attractive enough to wager on. But if on Saturday night, he’s sitting there as the Preakness champion, I won’t be completely surprised either."

Fire Your Imagination

Muth being out obviously boosts Mystik Dan’s chances of staying on the Triple Crown trail. But while Muth’s withdrawal spoiled Bob Baffert’s likely best shot to win the Preakness, the renowned trainer has another solid horse in the field who now sits as the +555 fourth choice at Circa.

"With the scratch of Muth, Imagination may actually benefit the most. Imagination was very likely to be on the lead in the early stages of the race," Zilm said. "Muth probably would have sat just off Imagination, applied some pressure and then collared him and gone by Imagination turning for home. It would have kept the pace honest enough and possibly enabled a mid-pack or a closer to run into a faster pace.

"Now, with Muth out, I’m not sure there will be that same pressure on Imagination."

That means Imagination — who will break from the eighth and final gate in this field — could just find a path to the winner’s circle.

"If Imagination can break without incident and move to the front early from his outside gate, he may have a fairly easy lead and save something in the tank for the stretch run," Zilm said.

And like his stablemate Muth, Imagination is fresh for the Preakness. He won the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes on March 3 and ran second to Stronghold in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby on April 6.

"I don’t think Imagination is as good as Muth, but you can’t ignore him. He’s rested, as well," Zilm said. "Bob Baffert, like him or not, knows how to get horses ready. I don’t think Baffert shows up in Baltimore just to be in the race.

"I’m sure he’s got a feeling Imagination can do well. Imagination is not just going along for the ride."

Others Worth Watching

Catching Freedom was the No. 3 choice in Preakness odds when post positions were drawn Monday. He’ll break from the No. 3 gate, right next to Mystik Dan, and is now the No. 2 choice, with odds of +375 at Circa Sports.

Catching Freedom finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

"He's a horse you can’t discount. If [trainer] Brad Cox is choosing to run him back, then he must be training good," Zilm said.

Then there’s a new shooter in Tuscan Gold. The colt won a 1-mile event at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 31, and he ran third to winner Catching Freedom and Honor Marie in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby on March 23.

"Tuscan Gold is like Muth. He didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby, so he’s a fresh horse," Zilm said. "His speed figures put him in kind of the same caliber as the upper horses in the Preakness. And trainer Chad Brown has done well with horses that didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby.

"He’s a horse that could improve and maybe win at a nice price. I have seen a few people I respect say they like Tuscan Gold. If you can lock him in at better odds early in the week, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to that."

Indeed, earlier this week, Tuscan Gold could be had at +800. With Muth out, Tuscan Gold is now the +450 third choice at Circa.

Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and senior reporter for He is a distinguished journalist in the national sports betting space. He’s based in Las Vegas, where he enjoys golfing in 110-degree heat. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickE_Vegas.

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