canada africa partner reservation Three lessons from Mystik Dan’s victory

Three lessons from Mystik Dan’s victory

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Mystik Dan’s nose reached the wire first in a nail-biting Kentucky Derby, giving Kentucky-based trainer Kenny McPeek his first victory in the first leg of the Triple Crown. Here are three takeaways from a close race.

Mystik Dan was always an underrated longshot

He was a difficult horse to read, as his one indisputably great performance came on a muddy track in the Southwest Stakes. When he finished third after a tough trip in the Arkansas Derby, he became a bit of an afterthought.

But his South West Beyer speed figure, which reflected track conditions and competition, told us he was potentially one of the fastest horses in this class for three-year-olds and a tasty betting pick at odds of 18-1 for the Derby .

What a way to score a defining victory, in the closest three-horse photo finish in a Derby since 1947.

“Ooh, that’s tight. Look at that,” McPeek said as the final margins came on the board at Churchill Downs.

He thought Mystik Dan had moved ahead of Sierra Leone and Forever Young with one last flick of his head, but until he saw the result up there, he wasn’t taking anything for granted.

Derby favorite Fierceness seemed to get the setup he needed, breaking cleanly and stalking just outside the lead as the race progressed at a brisk pace. However, when it was time to empty his tank, Fierceness showed none of the speed that carried him to dominant victories in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Florida Derby. By the end he fell to 15th place.

Mystik Dan entered that vacuum, with a strong, ground-saving position along the rail under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. Then came the dual attack of mighty Sierra Leone and undefeated Japanese contender Forever Young.

Perhaps no one expected Mystik Dan to hold off the higher-ranked horses, but he did, fulfilling the promise he made three months earlier in the Arkansas doldrums.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 04: Sierra Leone #2, ridden by jockey Tyler Gaffalione (L) and Forever Young #11, ridden by jockey Ryusei Sakai finish second and third in the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May August 4, 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Sierra Leone, left, ridden by jockey Tyler Gaffalione, and Forever Young, ridden by jockey Ryusei Sakai, cross the finish line second and third in the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

He didn’t win, but Sierra Leone staked its claim as the best three-year-old

Traffic would always remain Sierra Leone’s biggest enemy.

The hugely progressing colt has never run a bad race, but he is a latecomer and that is a tricky style for the Derby, with 19 other horses blocking the path to victory.

Sure enough, when jockey Tyler Gaffalione wanted to make his move, he had to hold up Sierra Leone and swing him wide around a wall of horses. Once he got going, he engaged in a rough duel with Forever Young as they both came at Mystik Dan. After all that extra running and punching, Sierra Leone, the 9-2 second choice, was still just a nose short.

“It’s a tough job, but it’s professional sport. Sometimes it’s a matter of inches,” said runner-up trainer Chad Brown, who is still searching for the first Derby victory of his hugely successful career.

“The Derby gods can be cruel sometimes and you have to wait,” he said.

However, there is no doubt about the quality of Brown’s horse. Whether faced with traffic, mud or his own reluctance to enter the starting gate, Sierra Leone always finishes with a mighty kick. He’s the one star in this class you can set your watch on, and it’s hard to imagine he won’t send Brown to the winner’s circle in a major race later this year.

When Mystik Dan comes to the Preakness, he will get a rematch with the Bob Baffert-trained Muth

Owner Lance Gasaway didn’t immediately commit Mystik Dan to the second leg of the Triple Crown, saying, “We’ll discuss it.”

We can no longer take that journey as a given after 2022 Derby winner Rich Strike skipped the Preakness, sending another strong message that the Triple Crown calendar – three races in five weeks – is out of step with modern training practices .

Assuming the Gasaways and McPeek follow the traditional path, they will likely encounter a familiar enemy.