This key moment is vital for Mage to win the Preakness Stakes

May 17th, 2023

An Alert Break Key for Mage

Mage will enter Saturday’s $1.5 million Preakness at Pimlico off a one-length victory under the Twin Spires, seeking to duplicate the performances of four of the last 11 Kentucky Derby winners who have come right back to add the second leg of the Triple Crown 14 days later.

The up-and-coming colt missed the break in the Kentucky Derby, getting away 15th in the 18-horse field, the second consecutive time he’s come walking out of the starting gate. Mage was last of 12 out of the gate in the Florida Derby (G1) before rallying for second behind Forte.

He took advantage of a favorable setup in the Kentucky Derby, lagging far behind taxing early fractions before launching a powerful move on the far turn. Brisnet Race Shapes illustrate the hot pace that developed up front, with the opening half-mile (45.73 seconds) receiving an unusually fast +14 rating, and late runners thrived as a result. Three of the top four finishers rallied from 12th or worse after the opening half-mile.

The pace scenario will be different in Saturday’s eight-horse Preakness field. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, a two-time Preakness winner, echoed a common theme surrounding the pace projection.

“We’re very concerned about the lack of pace that is obvious in the Preakness,” said Asmussen, who will send out the late-running Red Route One.

Mage may be good enough to overcome any obstacles in this year’s Preakness. The improving three-year-old has come a long way since making his career debut in late January, but there’s little upside to spotting significant ground to tactical rivals in races lacking pace.

Those taking a stand against Mage want to see more of the same pattern, but there’s no guarantee he’s going to break slowly.

The smaller Preakness field coupled with a projected moderate pace may benefit the chestnut, enabling him to race closer in the early stages. He remains lightly raced, with only four career starts, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Mage keep evolving with a clean start under two-time Preakness winner Javier Castellano, who is riding with confidence following his first Kentucky Derby win.

It makes for a fascinating drama surrounding the 148th Preakness.

Mage Kentucky Derby 149 starting gate (Photo by Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

Recent History

Let’s examine run styles of recent Preakness winners, using the four designations from Brisnet ultimate past performance: “E” for early types, “E/P” for early/pressers, “P” for stalkers, and “S” for one-run closers.

Early and early/pressers have dominated over the last decade.

Since 2013, Exaggerator (2016) is the lone “S” type to win the Preakness. Mage is one of four runners with the same designation in this year’s Preakness. Only one stalker, Rombauer, who rallied from midpack to record an 11-1 upset in 2021, has succeeded.

Eight of the last 10 Preakness winners were on the lead or up close to it.

Oxbow (2013), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018) led at every point of call. Early Voting tracked the pace in second last year, and California Chrome (2014), Cloud Computing (2016), War of Will (2019), and Swiss Skydiver (2020) also raced within striking range, up close from the start.