Mystik Dan’s Road to the Roses

April 13, 2024

Mystik Dan winning the Southwest. (Coady Photography/Kurtis Coady)

Compiled by Robert Yates

The wait is over for Team Mystik Dan.

Entering last Saturday’s final round of major preps, Mystik Dan’s 46 Kentucky Derby qualifying points ranked 15th on the official leaderboard released by Churchill Downs. That shaky total, ultimately, stood the test of time.

“We still kind of had to sweat, especially after that Wood when those long shots came in,” co-owner Lance Gasaway said during training hours Saturday at Oaklawn. “I thought, ‘OK, here we go.’ It worked out.”

That’s because, a week later, Mystik Dan is in the projected starting field for the Kentucky Derby May 4 at Churchill Downs. The 1 ¼-mile race is limited to 20 starters, with 19 slots based on point totals. Another horse, T O Password, was extended an invitation after collecting 40 points on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series. 

Mystik Dan fell to No. 18 following the results of a trio of Kentucky Derby qualifying races last weekend, including the $750,000 G2-Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Each race could have awarded as many as 200 points to its top five finishers (100-50-25-15-10, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. 

Among the horses that leapfrogged Mystik Dan in the rankings was Society Man, who, at odds of 106-1, finished second in the Wood Memorial. The final Kentucky Derby qualifying race is the $400,000 G3-Lexington Stakes Saturday at Keeneland. The Lexington will offer 20 points to the winner.

Mystik Dan, who is trained by Kenny McPeek, collected his Kentucky Derby qualifying points in three races at Oaklawn – a fifth-place finish in the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 1, a runaway victory in the $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 3 and a troubled third-place finish in the $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles March 30.

Mystik Dan, under Brian Hernandez Jr., was beaten 6 ¼ lengths by Muth in the Arkansas Derby after being bothered on the first turn by a rank Liberal Arts, the original sixth-place finisher. Following a stewards’ inquiry, Liberal Arts was disqualified for interference and placed eighth.

Mystik Dan caught favored Timberlake approaching the finish line to secure third by a half-length, a 10-point boost that proved pivotal in the qualifying chase.

“That was huge,” Gasaway said. “If we don’t run third, we’re not in the Kentucky Derby.”

In addition to Gasaway, Mystik Dan races for co-breeders 4 G Racing (Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway) and Daniel Hamby III and Hamby’s brother, Scott. Gasaway said Scott Hamby purchased an interest in Mystik Dan following his eight-length victory in the Southwest. Brent and Sharilyn are husband and wife. Lance and Brent are cousins. 

Mystik Dan returned to the work tab Saturday morning at Churchill Downs, covering a half-mile in :48. The track was fast. Lance Gasaway said McPeek sent him video of the breeze, which ranked 14th out of 123 recorded at the distance.

“Looked good,” Gasaway said. “The horse moved good. Just a maintenance half-mile. They’ll get down on him in the next two weeks.”

Gasaway, who resides in Star City, Ark., has never had a Kentucky Derby starter. He would have had one, under normal circumstances, in 2020 with Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou. But Wells Bayou (physical setback) missed the race after it was postponed from May to September because of the coronavirus. 

Wells Bayou did run on the original date of the 2020 Kentucky Derby (May 2), but it was in the rescheduled Arkansas Derby when he finished fifth in the race’s second division. 

“I’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby,” Lance Gasaway said. “I said I’ll never go unless I have a horse in the race. I’m not a crowd person. I said the only way I would do it is if I had one in there.”

Gasaway has several business interests in his native southeast Arkansas, including managing an agricultural flying service. His family also raises rice, cotton, corn and soybeans in nearby Gould. Gasaway grew up in Gould before starring at wide receiver in the mid-1980s at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. He was inducted into the UAM Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, roughly two years after entering Thoroughbred ownership.

Gasaway raced Wells Bayou with his late father, Clint, who also named the horse. Clint Gasaway attended school in Wells Bayou, a small community about 3 miles from Gould. May 4 – the date of the 2024 Kentucky Derby – will mark the one-year anniversary of his death. He was 85.

“Almost a year,” Lance Gasaway said. “Goes by quick. Might be something meant to be, you know?”

Other Oaklawn-raced horses to secure Kentucky Derby spots are Catching Freedom (125 points) and Just Steel (65), who rank third and 12th, respectively, on the leaderboard. 

Catching Freedom won the Smarty Jones for trainer Brad Cox. Just Steel was the only horse to go through Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series, finishing second in the Smarty Jones, Southwest and Arkansas Derby and seventh in the $1.25 million

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