Preakness Report: Mage brings late kick to Pimlico
Mage closed fast to win the Kentucky Derby, notching his second win from only four starts. Inexperience and a tendency for slow starts proved no obstacle for the Gustavo Delgado-trained colt, who took advantage of a hot pace to score by a length. He was off as the 15-1 eighth choice among 18 runners.
For the second consecutive year, late runners played a major role in the Kentucky Derby outcome, accounting for three of the top four finishers.
Mage will seek the second leg of the Triple Crown, the $1.5 million Preakness at Pimlico on May 20.
Take no prisoners
The riders of Verifying (Tyler Gaffalione), Kingsbarns (Jose Ortiz), and Reincarnate (John Velazquez) sprinted forward when the gates opened, and Verifying beat his rivals to the fore, establishing opening fractions in the 1 1/4-mile race on a narrow lead.
That left Ortiz and Velazquez with a decision to make, and Velazquez attempted to settle Reincarnate entering the backstretch, allowing his mount a breather while stalking the action an up-close third.
Ortiz opted for a different strategy, an all-in approach where Kingsbarns kept trying for the lead regardless of consequences. The top two dueled through an opening half-mile in :45.73, continuing their unsustainable pace battle until the far turn.
The early theatrics set the table for late runners.
Newfound run style
Mage didn’t become a late runner until the Florida Derby (G1) on April 1, rallying dramatically from 12th to strike the front in upper stretch, eventually finishing second to Forte. Slow starts forced a change in run style.
From the first crop of Good Magic, the chestnut made his career debut in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28. Here is what I wrote about Mage at the time (Kentucky Derby Report on Feb. 2).
First-out maiden winners in late January are up against it in terms of the Kentucky Derby, but Mage looks like one to follow. He didn’t break on top in last Saturday’s second race at Gulfstream Park, a 7-furlong maiden special weight, but quickly hustled to the front along the inside. He took serious pressure from another runner keen on the early lead, finally shrugging off his rival and opening a clear advantage nearing the conclusion of the far turn.
The Gustavo Delgado-trained colt drew off into the stretch, winning by nearly four lengths, and the chestnut son of Good Magic netted a whopping 101 Speed rating. That’s a big number for this year’s crop, and Mage ran more than a second faster than the winner of the Inside Information (G2) later on the program. And the speedster is bred for longer distances. Mage’s dam, Puca, was a stakes-placed router. Her half-brother, $1.5 million earner Finnegans Wake, winner of the Woodford Reserve (G1) and 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), rated as a deep closer who couldn’t get warmed up at distances under a mile.
Mage didn’t break sharply in his second start, the Fountain of Youth (G2) on March 4, but recovered to be an early fourth, racing evenly throughout his first stakes and two-turn attempt. Next came the Florida Derby, and Mage practically walked out of the starting gate, trailing through the early stages in a bulky field.
Mage changed tactics, launching an eye-catching move on the far turn of the Florida Derby. He blew past Forte on the bend, but Mage ran out of steam after striking the front, winding up a length back of his accomplished foe. The progressing sophomore benefited from the experience, sustaining his momentum through the long stretch at Churchill Downs five weeks later.
After missing the break in the Kentucky Derby, Mage settled in 16th through the opening half-mile, and he came flying into the frame on the far turn, motoring past opponents and angling wide into the stretch. He overhauled a game Two Phil’s inside the final furlong, edging away under the wire, and notched a 103 Speed rating.
Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) romper Two Phil’s ran great considering how close he was to the early pace, only two lengths back in fourth through the opening half-mile. The other frontrunners spit the bit by the top of the stretch, but Two Phil’s surged to a clear lead while straightening for home. That’s often a winning move in the Kentucky Derby.
Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Angel of Empire moved with Mage on the far turn but lacked the necessary kick after entering the stretch, rallying belatedly for third as the 4-1 favorite. Disarm, an up-and-coming type with only a maiden win to his credit, turned in a commendable showing from off the pace for fourth.
Let’s examine the current probables (in alphabetical order).
Blazing Sevens: Chad Brown bypassed the Kentucky Derby with Preakness winners Cloud Computing (2017) and Early Voting (2022), and Blazing Sevens will make his Triple Crown debut in Baltimore. Winner of last year’s Champagne (G1), the Good Magic colt didn’t carry his form forward in the next two stakes appearances, but Blazing Sevens appears to be rounding into top condition following a third in the Blue Grass (G1).
Chase the Chaos: El Camino Real Derby winner would be an extreme longshot. In 2021, El Camino Real Derby winner Rombauer captured the Preakness after missing the Kentucky Derby, but the similarities stop there with Chase the Chaos, who would need to find form to challenge following an eighth in the California Derby and a seventh in the San Felipe (G2).
Confidence Game: Part of the hot pace, only two lengths back after the opening half-mile, Confidence Game didn’t experience a clean trip on the far turn of the Kentucky Derby and was forced to check and lose momentum along the inside to avoid a retreating Verifying. The incident may not have cost him a top-three finish, but Confidence Game ran better than his 10th-place result would indicate. He probably needed the race after a 10-week layoff, and the Rebel (G2) winner rates as a candidate to show more off the comebacker.
Disarm: Only a maiden winner, Disarm weaved his way through traffic to be a closing fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and the athletic son of Gun Runner appears to be on an upward trajectory for Steve Asmussen. He’ll need to keep moving forward to be a major factor at Pimlico, which isn’t out of the question for the improving colt.
First Mission: Lightly-raced and extremely promising, First Mission established himself as a top contender winning the Lexington (G3) on April 15, reeling in loose-on-the-lead Arabian Lion to prevail, and his 103 Brisnet Speed rating ties Mage for the top last-out number in the Preakness field. The Brad Cox-trained Street Sense colt made his career debut in mid-February, breaking his maiden by a 6 3/4-length margin when stretching out to two turns in his second start, and First Mission likes to race up close to the pace.
Henry Q: A convincing winner of the Mine That Bird Derby two back, Henry Q failed to qualify for the Kentucky Derby when finishing third at short odds in the Sunland Derby (G3). He’s been privately sold and transferred to Doug O’Neill in the interim, but the Preakness represents a major class test for the unproven colt.
Il Miracolo: The Preakness will be a tough ask following well-beaten performances in his last five stakes appearances, checking in sixth most recently in the Florida Derby (G1). His career-best 85 Speed rating won’t cut it at this level.
Mage: The late-running chestnut has come a long way in a short time for trainer Gustavo Delgado, making his career debut 99 days prior to the Kentucky Derby. Mage can still learn to break better from the starting gate, which will only enhance the exciting three-year-old’s talents.
National Treasure: A record seven-time winner of the Preakness, Bob Baffert will join the Triple Crown fray with National Treasure, who exits a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Multiple Grade 1-placed as a juvenile, National Treasure opened his three-year-old season with a close third in the Sham (G3), and he missed a planned start in the San Felipe due to a minor foot injury. National Treasure likes to race within striking range of early leaders.
Perform: Connections will pay a $150,000 supplemental fee since Perform wasn’t Triple Crown-nominated, breaking his maiden by a 2 3/4-length margin in mid-March at Tampa Bay Downs. By Good Magic, the Shug McGaughey-trained colt came right back to win the Federico Tesio at Laurel a month later, and Perform will be running late in his first graded start.
Red Route One: Runner-up in the Rebel and Southwest (G3), the dedicated closer failed to qualify for the Kentucky Derby when sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Red Route One rebounded in the $200,000 Bath House Row S. at Oaklawn Park on April 22, a Preakness qualifier, rallying last-to-first to score by a head. The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Gun Runner will bring a late punch to the Preakness.