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Catching Freedom shows why it was an ‘easy decision’ to enter him in the Preakness

BALTIMORE (AP) - Catching Freedom got a few days off after finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

16 May 2024
16 May 2024

BALTIMORE (AP) - Catching Freedom got a few days off after finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

When he returned to the track, he looked like a fresh horse rather than one who had just run a race against elite competition.

After some consideration, trainer Brad Cox and his camp decided to send Catching Freedom to the Preakness, one of the final entrants in the field.

Catching Freedom has looked so strong in training at Pimlico Race Course, it was clear why they went in this direction.

"He acted like he could do it, so we thought about it and the more we did with him, the better he responded,” assistant trainer Blake Cox, Brad’s son, said Thursday. "It made it an easy decision."

Catching Freedom has had some feisty moments this week, looking every bit like a colt who’s well-rested and eager to race again. He’s one of just three taking part in the second leg of the Triple Crown after being in the Derby, along with winner Mystik Dan and 17th-place finisher Just Steel.

Cox acknowledged the 14-day turnaround was "a big ask,” but Catching Freedom is catching attention for his easy stride and becoming a buzzy Preakness pick.

"Looking at the race now, it's a great decision to come here," Cox said. "To see him training the way he is, we're ready for Saturday.”

The revised morning line has, as expected, made Mystik Dan the favorite at 8-5 after the Bob Baffert-trained Muth was scratched Wednesday because of a fever.

Imagination, Baffert’s horse left in the field as he looks for a r ecord-extending ninth Preakness victory, is second at 3-1, followed by Catching Freedom at 7-2 and Chad Brown-trained Tuscan Gold at 9-2. D. Wayne Lukas’ Just Steel and Seize the Grey are each 12-1, and long shots Mugatu and Uncle Heavy are 20-1.

Especially with rain in the forecast, it has become Mystik Dan’s race to lose. The Derby winner by a nose got a glimpse of the Pimlico paddock on Thursday morning before getting in a light gallop overseen by trainer Kenny McPeek, who was out at the barn in Baltimore for the first time this week.

"He's doing great," McPeek said. "He's a pretty easy-peasy colt. He eats well and he's a real quiet horse. I've used the terminology that he's an old soul. Nothing much fazes him at all, which makes our job really easy."

Uncle Heavy is trainer Butch Reid’s first horse in any of the Triple Crown races, and the big, beefy colt lives up to his name. He also has shown some nice potential, winning twice as a 2-year-old and then in a stakes race in New York in February before a disappointing finish in the Wood Memorial last month.

But Reid isn’t happy just to be at the Preakness.

"We only wanted to come if we thought we had a real chance, and we think we have a real chance in this one," he said Thursday at the annual Alibi Breakfast, a tradition that dates to the 1930s.

One major reason to think Uncle Heavy stands a chance is his jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr., the reigning Eclipse Award winner as most outstanding jockey, an honor he has won five times. Ortiz replaces Mychel Sanchez, reuniting with Reid looking to rekindle some of the success they’ve had together in search of his first Preakness victory.

"Irad's Irad, so he's got the experience in these situations," Reid said. "I think maybe the relationship that Irad and I have had in the past maybe helped him in making that decision."


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