The 2023 Kentucky Derby has come and gone. Mage, a 15-1 New Jersey horse betting longshot, rallied to win the Run for the Roses on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The eyes of the horse racing world now turn to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore for the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. The Preakness Stakes is coming up on May 20, and it begs one question.
Can Mage, slotted as the 8/5 favorite via FanDuel Racing NJ after the morning draw, become horse racing’s 14th Triple Crown winner? Let’s take a closer look.
Many rivals missing 2023 Preakness Stakes
Mage’s connections have confirmed he’s likely to contest the Preakness. As silly as it may sound, that’s not a given anymore. Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Rich Strike, skipped the Preakness to await the Belmont Stakes three weeks later.
Missing in Maryland, though, will be some of this year’s most talented 3-year-olds. Forte would have likely been the Kentucky Derby favorite, but he scratched the morning of the race with a foot bruise.
His connections initially pointed to the Preakness, but the colt is on the vet’s list and cannot currently run. To get off of that list, he must record a workout 14 days after going on the list, and that work must be to the satisfaction of a track veterinarian. With the Preakness 14 days after the Derby, that makes a trip to Maryland impossible.
Many other Kentucky Derby contenders are bypassing the Preakness, too. Runner-up Two Phil’s won’t be in the field, and third-place finisher Angel of Empire isn’t listed among the likely runners.
The Preakness field will likely include several “new shooters” who bypassed the Derby. That list, for those curious about betting on the 2023 Preakness Stakes, includes recent stakes winners First Mission and Red Route One. However, Mage should be a pretty heavy favorite at Pimlico when the morning line odds go up Monday. And a repeat of his Derby effort could make him tough to beat.
Rivals await in the Belmont Stakes
The 2023 Belmont Stakes is set for Saturday, June 10. It’s run at the grueling distance of 1 ½ miles, which makes it easily the longest race of the Triple Crown series.
If Mage wins the Preakness, he’ll face several significant obstacles in the race known as “the test of the champion” in nearby New York. It will be his third race in five weeks, at a taxing distance, in a venue where he’s never run.
Perhaps the biggest barriers, though, come from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
In addition to Forte, Pletcher also trains Tapit Trice, who won this year’s Blue Grass before finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby. However, Tapit Trice’s sire, Tapit, is one of horse racing’s top distance influences, and he’s present in the pedigrees of several recent Belmont winners.
Pletcher, meanwhile, has won the Belmont Stakes four times. Most recently, his horses ran first and second last year, when Mo Donegal and Nest swept the exacta.
More on the 2023 Triple Crown
Two horses have swept the series in the past decade. Bob Baffert trainees American Pharoah and Justify won the prestigious races in 2015 and 2018, respectively.
Baffert, however, wasn’t present at this year’s Kentucky Derby. He was handed a two-year ban from the race after 2021 Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for an overage of a substance. Baffert runners, however, are eligible for the latter two races of this year’s Triple Crown.
Prior to American Pharoah, no horse had won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. That didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of chances, though. Between 1979 and 2014, 11 horses won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but lost the Belmont.
One thoroughbred, I’ll Have Another, won the first two races but scratched from the 2012 Belmont just before the race with what turned out to be a career-ending injury. Swale, Risen Star, Tabasco Cat and Point Given all won the Belmont in addition to one other leg of the Triple Crown.
Few Kentucky Derby winners went on to also run the Preakness in recent years, due to a variety of reasons. If Mage does follow through and make the start, that will be noteworthy in itself. If he wins, the Belmont Stakes, already a monster of a race, becomes a bigger beast.