Keeping Score with Chip Ainsworth: Without Muth, Preakness looks wide open

Published: 05-17-2024 4:01 PM

Modified: 05-17-2024 7:38 PM


Good morning!
Today’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore was supposed to be easy pickings. Bob Baffert’s speed merchant Muth, named for his friend Aaron Muth, would jet around the oval at even money and Baffert would pocket his ninth Preakness.

On Wednesday, however, the $2 million colt spiked a fever and was scratched. With Muth out the favorite becomes Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan at 5-2 in the morning line. Mystik Dan was all-out to beat Sierra Leone by a nose at Churchill Downs, and coming back in two weeks is like pitching on two days rest. Trainer Ken McPeek’s initial reaction was to rest his horse, but it’s the owners who have the last say.

Can Mystik Dan be a factor on short rest? Kentucky Derby winners Mage, Medina Spirit and Authentic didn’t win the Preakness but they all finished in the money and at short odds.

Only two other horses that raced in the Derby on May 4 will compete in today’s Preakness. Catching Freedom trained by Brad Cox finished fourth, and Just Steel trained by D. Wayne Lukas ran 17th. Lukas has another colt in the Preakness, Seize the Gray, which didn’t qualify for the Derby but won the Pat Day Mile at 9-to-1 odds. 

Flavian Prat won the ’22 Preakness on Rombauer, and Tyler Gaffalione won aboard War of Will in 2019. Today they’re on Catching Freedom at 6-1 and Tuscan Gold at 8-1.

Baffert’s other horse, Imagination, is 6-for-6 in exacta finishes, including two wins. Frankie Dettori stays on despite losing the Santa Anita Derby by a neck as the even money favorite.

The Preakness is all about speed. Mystik Dan, Catching Freedom, Just Steel, Tuscan Gold and Imagination all have Beyer Speed Figures between 95 and 101, and any one of them is capable of winning on any given day.

Meanwhile the two longshots in the eight-horse field are Mugatu ridden by Joe Bravo, and Uncle Heavy ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. Both colts are 20-1 to wear the blanket of black-eyed Susans.

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“Bet a ham sandwich, it’s a very difficult race,” says handicapper John Dobrydnio. “It’s so wide open now. D. Wayne Lukas won the Pat Day Mile with Seize the Grey in the race of his life. Tuscan Gold is a nice fresh horse. Baffert is going to forwardly place Imagination. I like Catching Freedom but sometimes he doesn’t change leads.”

Dobrydnio’s intrigued by Just Steel because he was on the leader’s throatlatch until the far turn at Churchill Downs. “The old fox Lukas puts him right back in and Joel Rosario and his agent take him and I guarantee you Rosario galloped that horse to be sure he’s sound.

“I don’t like betting the Preakness, but as a longshot I’m going to make a small bet on Just Steel to win, and mix him up in exactas with Mystik Dan, Catching Freedom, Tuscan Gold and Imagination.”

The Preakness is the 13th race on the card, and post time is 7:01 p.m. Adjust accordingly if it rains. Mystik Dan registered a 101 Beyer winning in the mud at Oaklawn Park, Catching Freedom posted a 92 BSF on a wet track at the Fair Grounds, and two of Uncle Heavy's three wins have been on off tracks.

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During the 1950s and 60s, Red Sullivan was a popular faculty member at Deerfield Academy. The headmaster hired men of character and Sullivan hailed from a rough and tumble world.

Students were entertained by stories like the time he was locked up in a jail in the Deep South and a klansman asked him his religion. “Protestant,” said Sullivan.

“Bulls***,” said the KKKer. “You’re a goddamn Irish Catholic.”

I was reminded of Sullivan’s anecdote this week when Mark Enoch told me he was reading a book about the KKK called “A Fever in the Heartland,” by Timothy Egan, 

The KKK didn’t like a Catholic university like Notre Dame being in Indiana and in 1924 they invaded the campus 2,000 strong. “They were repulsed by an outnumbered student body, led by Harry Stuhldreher, one of the Four Horsemen,” wrote Enoch. “[Yesterday] was the 100th anniversary of when Knute Rockne’s team became the Fighting Irish.”

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One observation from watching my grandson Chase play for the Eaglebrook JV baseball team is that coaches everywhere are warning players to beware of the hidden ball trick. Whenever there’s a pickoff attempt or throw to a base, the entire bench yells “Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball!”

The wordage varies, Smith Academy players yelled “Still there! There! There! There! There!”

Last Saturday in Amherst, the early afternoon calm was shattered when Eaglebrook third baseman Rowan Muzzy shouted, “I got him! I got him! I got him! I got him!”

Only one umpire was working the game and he was behind home plate. He looked at third, stuck his thumb in the air and called the runner out. The Amherst coach was apoplectic. “You didn’t even see it!” he shouted.

The arbiter and coach huddled halfway up the third baseline, spoke briefly and the player was told to take a seat. When the inning ended the umpire wandered over to where I was standing and said, “These kids at this age, it’s kinda hard for ‘em to bulls***, but I’m getting tired of this whole (bleeping) hidden ball thing.””

Meanwhile Muzzy was mobbed by his teammates. “That was the highlight of my year!” he exclaimed.

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Judy Bresciano passed away this week at age 80. She once appeared on “The Price is Right,” but had to disqualify herself when she saw the prize on stage was a golf cart.

Judy worked at Deerfield Academy when the school was looking to buy a golf cart for the headmaster. Indeed, Frank Boyden may have been the first person to ever use a golf cart for something other than golf.

RIP also to Steve Prunier, a Hall of Fame sports fan if there ever was one. Prunier, 62, was given a proper sendoff by friends who’d tipped many a brew and watched many a game with him.

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SQUIBBERS: Late in the first period of the Hurricanes-Rangers game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller hit a slap shot from in front of his own net that sailed chest high all the way down the ice into the Carolina goalkeeper’s glove. Yeah, these guys are good. …  Braves announcer Brandon Gaudin played the name game on Monday after Michael Busch singled, and the next Cubs batter was Miles Mastrobuoni:  “So from Busch to our old friend Mastrobuoni. Brad Hand is no longer here, Pierce Johnson’s on the IL, so it’s a solo mission for Mastrobuoni tonight”. … Mark Durant reports there’s an upside to the Patriots’ downslide. “Eleven games are at 1 p.m., two are at 4 p.m. and the Oct. 20 game in London kicks off at 9:30 a.m.” …. Slight change to the date of the UMass-Army game scheduled for Nov. 9 at McGuirk. Kickoff’s been moved to Sept. 6, 1936, provided the stadium’s still standing. … Remember how Mike Milbury called European players Eurotrash? WFAN’s Gio Giannotti has come up with “all Swedish no Finnish.” … The Red Sox and Yankees don’t square off until next month when they play nine games in six weeks. … Talking heads are reprising Diana Taurasi’s comments after Caitlin Clark’s shaky debut against the Connecticut Sun. “Reality is coming. There’s levels to this,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer told Scott Van Pelt. … Mike Francesca has been talking up a 3-year-old colt named Reynolds Channel. “My partner named the horse Reynolds Channel because it’s where he likes to fish,” said Francesca, who told listeners he expects the colt to break his maiden in New York this weekend. He’s not in today, and at this writing tomorrow’s Aqueduct entries hadn’t been posted. … The July 20 bout between Mike Tyson (50-6-2; 44 KOs) and Jake Paul (9-1; 6 KOs) will be streamed live on Netflix for no extra charge. … Calling all hoopsters, four days at Frank Martin’s basketball camp cost $350. …. The Yankees this century are 126-53 against the Twins. … Hartford and Hershey are playing for the Calder Cup, but former UMass star Bobby Trivigno has played in only one postseason game. …. The late Earl Weaver, on why he cut Drungo Hazewood who was batting .583 in spring training: “He was making the rest of us look bad.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet715@icloud.com