Kentucky Derby winner Mage is facing a fresh set of horses in the Preakness in a situation not seen in more than half a century, and he's the early favourite to beat them.
Mage was installed as the 8-5 morning line favourite at the post-position draw Monday. He's the only horse in the field of eight set to take part in the second race of the Triple Crown two weeks after running in the Derby.
It's the first Preakness since 1969 with just one Derby horse. Majestic Prince won each of those races 54 years ago, a feat Mage will try to duplicate.
"Everyone has their own agendas for the rest of the year and the schedule, what races they want to run in," co-owner Ramiro Restrepo said. "All we can really control is our house. The horse is doing great, which is the most important thing. That gave us the green light to run, and whoever they line up in there is who we've got to race. That's all we can focus on."
Mage will face seven fresh horses in an attempt to keep open the possibility of the first Triple Crown winner since Justify in 2018. He drew the No. 3 post for the 1 3/16-mile, $1.65 million race.
"We're good," assistant trainer Gustavo Delgado Jr. said. "I'm pretty content with it. I was more concerned at the Derby with a 20-horse field. Eight horses now, I think every horse is going to have a decent shot and hopefully the best wins. That's what horse racing is about."
Mage won the the first jewel of the Triple Crown at odds of 15-1 as one of 18 horses in the race, which came after seven fatalities at Churchill Downs in a 10-day span — including Derby contender Wild on Ice — raised safety questions. Five were scratched for various reasons the week of, including favorite Forte hours before when Kentucky officials had questions about a bruised right front foot.
The Preakness field includes National Treasure, who was not eligible for the Derby because trainer Bob Baffert is serving a two-year suspension from Churchill Downs. Medina Spirit, who failed a postrace drug test in 2021 to prompt the suspension, was Baffert's last horse in the Preakness, which he has won a record-tying seven times.
National Treasure drew the inside No. 1 post and is the third choice on the morning line at 4-1. First Mission, trained by Brad Cox, drew the outside No. 8 post and has the second-shortest odds at 5-2.
But Mage is the horse to beat.
"It's going to be hard," said John Salzman Jr., co-owner and trainer of 20-1 long shot Coffeewithchris. "He does come usually from back far. But at Pimlico it's tough with the sharper turns, and the lack of speed here in this race seems to be a little in our favor. I'm not saying I'm going to beat him because he is a super horse, but what I like is he has to come back in two weeks and with the shipping (from Louisville) and with everything, I'm here waiting and I'm fresh."
Delgado, who works for his father, Gustavo Delgado Sr., wasn't sure if Mage would have run in the Preakness if not for the Derby win. But he and Restrepo are unconcerned about what-if scenarios and who else is in the race.
"I haven't paid too much attention to who's running, who's not, and that happens when you win," Delgado said. "You worry about the horse and keeping him happy because you know you'll probably be the favorite, so you focus on your horse. You have to beat them all."
The Derby was the first U.S. Triple Crown win for his father, a Hall of Fame trainer in his native Venezuela. Jockey Javier Castellano is set to ride the colt again after winning the Derby for the first time in his 16th try.
Restrepo said he was not worried about how much speed is in the Preakness and will let Castellano handle any on-track adjustments.
"I don't ride the horse," he said. "I can't ride a pony, so I'm going to allow our Hall of Famer to make that call and make those decisions."
Between National Treasure and Mage, Chase the Chaos drew the No. 2 post and is the longest shot on the board at odds of 50-1. No. 4 is Coffeewithchris, No. 5 is Red Route One (10-1), No. 6 is Perform (15-1) and Blazing Sevens is No. 7 (6-1).