Can Mage do it again In the 2023 Preakness?

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On the first Saturday in May, eighteen horses went to the post for North America’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby.

The race was fast-paced and eventful, as always, but two minutes and one second later, it was Mage, a chestnut son of freshman sire Good Magic, who came away with the roses.

There were no objections against Mage or jockey Javier Castellano. He passed his post-race drug test, and his connections announced that he would definitely be heading toward Baltimore for the Preakness, the second leg of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing.

The Triple Crown has only been won thirteen times in the 143 years that all three races have been run on separate days. Can Mage take the next step toward becoming Triple Crown winner number 14? Check the Preakness contenders here: twinspires.com/preakness-stakes/contenders

Kentucky Derby Winners In The Preakness

Over the last quarter century, trainers have been more and more likely to space their horses’ races out and give them longer rests in between. This can be seen when looking at the schedule of Kentucky Derby prep races. For example, in years past, the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes was held a mere nine days before the Kentucky Derby; this year, it was held an entire four weeks before the big race.

One would think, therefore, that trainers would then balk at the idea of running in the Preakness only two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. However, while fewer also-rans from the Derby compete in the Preakness, in the past twenty-five years the Derby winner has only skipped the Preakness two times: in 2022, when Rich Strike bypassed the race, and in 2019, when both official winner Country House and first-place finisher Maximum Security declined to participate (Mandaloun did not participate in the 2021 Preakness, but at the time he was not yet considered the Kentucky Derby winner).

Of those 23 Kentucky Derby winners (including Medina Spirit) who participated in the Preakness, over 78% of them had a top three finish. Ten of them won: Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Big Brown (2008), I’ll Have Another (2012), California Chrome (2014), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018). Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), Street Sense (2007), Mine that Bird (2009), Animal Kingdom (2011), and Authentic (2020) all finished second in their Preakness runnings, and Giacomo (2005), Nyquist (2016), and Medina Spirit (2021) finished third.

This means that since 1998, the only Kentucky Derby winners who ran in the Preakness and failed to hit the board were Monarchos (2001), Barbaro (2006, who did not finish due to injury), Super Saver (2010), Orb (2013), and Always Dreaming (2017).

It would seem that the odds are in Mage’s favor.

Mage’s Upward Trajectory

In addition, Mage himself has been showing a tremendous amount of improvement in his (admittedly short) career.

One way to measure a horse’s individual performances that can judge both an individual effort and sense a pattern of how a horse performs over several races is to use speed figures. Speed figures are measures of race performance that are calculated to demonstrate a horse’s overall speed and quality while accounting for outside factors such as track condition. (There are multiple different types of speed figures available which all use slightly different calculations, so it is important when analyzing them to ensure that you are comparing apples to apples.)

Mage’s E speed figures, calculated by Equibase, clearly demonstrate a positive pattern while still showing room for growth. His debut victory at Gulfstream Park earned him an 88. He got a 95 while finishing fourth in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes, and a 102 with his second in the Grade I Florida Derby. When the Kentucky Derby figures were calculated, Equibase gave him a career-high 104. This pattern of small, incremental increases shows that Mage is coming into his own and that these performances are unlikely to be flukes.

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