July 24, 2024

Mystik Dan spectacular in Southwest; Band of Gold gets up in Martha Washington

Mystik Dan wins the Southwest S. (G3) (Photo by Coady Photography / Credit to Kurtis Coady)

Mystik Dan rallied up the rail to take over in upper stretch and rolled home to an eight-length victory in Saturday’s $800,000 Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park, springing a 11.40-1 upset in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier. Brian Hernandez Jr. was up for Kenny McPeek on the son of Goldencents, and Mystik Dan finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.67 over the muddy track.

A maiden winner the second time out at Churchill Downs in mid-November, Mystik Dan followed with a fifth versus allowance rivals and a fifth in the Jan. 1 Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn Park. The bay colt turned things around spectacularly in the Southwest, stalking the pace in sixth before advancing into contention along the rail on the far turn.

Otto the Conqueror, who set fractions in :23.56, :47.95, and 1:13.74 while being pressed by 9-5 favorite Carbone, surrendered the lead to Just Steel leaving the far turn, but his advantage was short-lived as Mystik Dan offered a powerful turn of foot up the inside to take over. He quickly drew off in the final sixteenth of a mile, winning under wraps.

“I was actually thinking about it (getting to the rail after breaking from post 9) the whole way in the post parade there,” Hernandez said. “I was just trying to figure out what horse I could get behind and get to the fence. I was fortunate enough, my horse left there quick enough, but not overly quick, to where I was able to get behind the leaders and make my way over to the fence. And from there, he just traveled so well the whole way. We were able to save ground on both turns.

“When we got to the second turn, I called on him and he picked it up. I was able to kind of just wait for a spot. When a seam opened up barely on the inside, he shot through there and did the rest for us.”

Mystik Dan had showed speed in previous starts.

We left it (tactics) up to Brian,” McPeek said. “You can’t predict all that. But he needed to learn how to rate. He needed to learn how to settle off horses and maintain that late punch, and we’ve been doing that in the morning every day. I think we’ll probably skip the Rebel (G2) and wait for the Arkansas Derby (G1). He’s not what I would call a horse that…I’ve run him back quick and it’s kicked me. So, I don’t think we need to do that. We just need to be patient and wait. We’ve got plenty of time and he’s a fit horse. And if we go into the Arkansas Derby, they’re going to have run their tail off to beat us.”

The $1.5 million Arkansas Derby will be offered on March 30.

Owned and bred by Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing, and Daniel Hamby III, Mystik Dan is the first foal to race from the Colonel John mare Ma’am, a half-sister to multiple Greek champion Revamp. This is also the immediate female family of Grade 1 winner Siphonic.

The Southwest offered points on a 20-10-6-4-2 scale toward a Kentucky Derby berth. Just Steel, who picked up five points for his runner-up finish in the Smarty Jones, held second by a neck over late-running Liberal Arts. It was another nine lengths back to Awesome Road in fourth, and next came Common Defense, Otto the Conqueror, Carbone, Linebacker, Charleston, Magic Grant, and Wynstock.

McPeek and Hernandez scored a 24-1 upset a couple of races earlier on the program with Band of Gold, who closed boldly late to win the $250,000 Martha Washington for fillies. The Road to the Kentucky Oaks series qualifier awarded points on a 20-10-6-4-2 scale, and Band of Gold netted her first stakes win. The three-year-old gray daughter of Preservationist is campaigned by Dixiana Farms.

A debut maiden scorer at Churchill Downs in late November, Band of Gold improved upon an even fifth in the Untapable S. at Fair Grounds in late December.

Denim and Pearls, the even-money favorite, rallied from just off the pace to a short lead in midstretch, but she began to tire in the latter stages. Tapit Jenalie, who established an early pace in :23.67, :47.71, and 1:12.53, was still in contention along the rail entering deep stretch, and pace-pressing Neom Beach kept plugging on between rivals.

The landscape quickly changed as Band of Gold came charging on the far outside, overhauling rivals approaching the wire and surging clear to a 2 3/4-length decision. She completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:45.16 on the sloppy track.

Denim and Pearls held second by a neck over Neom Beach, who was a half-length better than Tapit Jenalie. It was a gap back to the rest, as Promisemeanempire, Divine Gal, Saratoga Secret, In Good Taste, and Hust It Honey followed.

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones, Band of Gold was purchased for $75,000 as a weanling at the 2021 Keeneland November sale. She’s the first stakes winner from the Cairo Prince mare Play for Gold, a half-sister to multiple Grade 3 winner My Boy Jack.

Oaklawn also hosted a pair of sprint stakes on Saturday’s program.

In the $150,000 King Cotton, Red Lane Thoroughbreds’ Skelly made it seven straight wins with a superb frontrunning performance, zipping through splits in :21.88 and :44.99 before drawing off to score by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:09.38. Ricardo Santana Jr. was up on the thriving five-year-old gelding for Steve Asmussen.

By Practical Joke, Skelly started his win streak last February, winning four consecutive races at Oaklawn, including the Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3), before adding the Speightstown Sprint at Lone Star Park in late May. The Kentucky-bred returned from a seven-month layoff to easily capture an allowance in late December, and Skelly notched his fourth stakes win in the King Cotton, improving his overall mark to 12-8-3-0 with earnings of $875,163. He’s now won six of eight starts at Oaklawn.

Skelly left the starting gate as the 4-5 favorite. Grade 3 winner Tejano Twist, the 2-1 second choice following wins in the Ring the Bell S. at Oaklawn and Bet on Sunshine S. at Churchill Downs, rallied to be a non-threatening second. Excess Magic, Miles Ahead, Jaxon Traveler, and Edge to Edge completed the order.

Alva Star did not disappoint as the 3-10 favorite in the $150,000 American Beauty S., rolling home to a 3 1/2-length victory with Cristian Torres, and the Grade 2-winning four-year-old filly earned her third stakes win. Trained by Brett Brinkman, Alva Star sped six furlongs in 1:10.47, and she’s now bankrolled $420,400 from 7-4-3-0 record.

The daughter of Lord Nelson was bred in Kentucky by Brinkman and owner P. Dale Ladner. Alva Star registered her first stakes win in the Dashing Beauty at Delaware Park last July and followed with an 8 3/4-length romp in the Prioress (G2) at Saratoga. She was exiting a close second in the Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland last October.