Mystik Dan Boasts Impressive Eight-Length Score in G3 Southwest

February 3, 2024

Mystik Dan pulls clear to win the Southwest (Coady Photography)

By Robert Yates – Oaklawn Park

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Mystik Dan darted through a hole on the inside turning for home en route to an eight-length victory in the $800,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds on a soggy Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn.

Mystik Dan collected 20 qualifying points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby with the victory, his second in five starts overall. Brian Hernandez Jr. rode the son of Goldencents for trainer Kenny McPeek and Arkansas breeders/owners Lance Gasaway, 4G Racing (Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway) and Daniel “Banks”Hamby III.

Just Steel finished second, a neck in front of Grade 3 winner Liberal Arts, who was making his 2024 debut. It was nine lengths farther back to fourth-place finisher Awesome Road, who was followed, in order, by Common Defense, Otto the Conqueror, 9-5 favorite Carbone, Linebacker, Charleston, Magic Grant and Grade 2 winner Wynstock. Maycocks Bay, the 3-1 program favorite, was scratched because of a fever.

Racing over a muddy, sealed surface, Mystik Dan’s winning time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.67. His margin of victory was the largest for the Southwest since Super Ninety Nine (a record 11 ¼ lengths) in 2013.

Just Steel and Mystik Dan finished second and fifth, respectively, in Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race, the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 1.

Mystik Dan, after breaking from post 9 in the Southwest, was able to save ground on both turns and slipped inside a tiring Otto the Conqueror on the inside turning for home. Mystik Dan, still riding the rail, quickly collared Just Steel near the three-sixteenths pole and drew off in the final furlong.

Mystik Dan, who broke his maiden Nov. 12 at Churchill Downs, has earned $510,110.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes Feb. 24 and $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30.

SOUTHWEST STAKES QUOTES

Winning jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. (Mystik Dan): “I was actually thinking about it (rail after breaking from post 9) the whole way in the post parade there. 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.”

Winning trainer Kenny McPeek (Mystik Dan): “We left it (tactics) up to Brian (jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.). 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 and wait for the Arkansas Derby. 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.”

Second-place jockey Ramon Vazquez (Just Steel): “I think the outside position (post 10) hurt me a little bit. I had to move a little bit from there to put him into the race. I was thinking if I had a better post, he was going to be closer.”

Third-place jockey Cristian Torres (Liberal Arts): “We had a nice trip honestly, I followed the winner the whole way around. We were hoping to make a nice run at the end. He hasn’t run in three months, but we’re happy with the way he ran today. Hopefully, he comes out of this race good. Maybe we’ll see him in the Derby.”

Second-place trainer D. Wayne Lukas (Just Steel): “I might not have had him as tight as I’d like to for today, but it’s early in the year. I don’t want to have him run his best race in February.”

Third-place trainer Robert Medina (Liberal Arts): “I thought he ran very well. He was in a good spot the whole way. He looked like he was following the winner (Mystik Dan) and then had to wait a little bit. When he swung out is when he did his best running. I liked what I saw from the eighth pole home. He finished up very strong. Galloped out very strong. As the distances increase, we’ll be right there with these horses.”

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