Preakness Stakes favorite Muth scratched due to fever

A Triple Crown became much more of a possibility Wednesday when Preakness Stakes favorite Muth was scratched from Saturday’s race, leaving Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan as the favorite.

The Santa Anita-based 3-year-old had a long travel day on Tuesday, along with stablemates Imagination and Mirahmadi, starting with a delayed departure from LAX to Newark Airport, and from there a long van ride in heavy traffic down to Pimlico Race Course.

The horses arrived late Tuesday night.

“He looked fine when he got there,” said trainer Bob Baffert from Santa Anita. “This morning he didn’t eat his grain, so that’s not a good sign. His temperature elevated to 103. So, we went ahead and treated him and he’s already looking much better.”

The normal temperature of a horse is 99 to 101 degrees. Most racehorses get their temperature taken every morning.

“He’s OK,” Baffert said of Muth. “It’s just bad luck. I’ve been so fortunate going to big races. But you’re always worried about things happening, especially when you are traveling. … Sometimes they get shipping fever. I just made the call to scratch him. I don’t take any chances.”

Muth is coming off a win in the Arkansas Derby, where he defeated Mystik Dan and Just Steel, who are both in the Preakness. He had won four of his six races, including the Grade 1 American Pharoah at Santa Anita last year.

Before the scratch Muth was the 8-5 favorite while Mystik Dan was the 5-2 second choice. Now, Mystik Dan is the favorite in a field of eight.

There was some question to whether Mystik Dan would make it to the Preakness when he didn’t finish his feed bucket the day after the Kentucky Derby. But the horse rebounded the next day and has been training well.

After Muth’s Arkansas win, the colt’s owner, Amr Zedan, sued Churchill Downs in an attempt to allow the colt to run in the Kentucky Derby. Baffert horses were banned from the track, initially for two years, after Medina Spirit tested positive for a forbidden race-day substance in 2021. But the ban was extended by at least one year because Churchill Downs didn’t believe Baffert was contrite enough.

Zedan’s legal argument is he purchased six horses for abut $10.7 million with the expectation that they would be eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby because Baffert’s two-year ban would have expired by then. . Kentucky district and appeals court judges ruled against Zedan.

So, it was on to the Preakness for Muth, until Wednesday.

“This was an important race for him,” Baffert said. “He was just set up for this race. The horse will tell us what he wants to do next. Maybe the Belmont will be his next race.”

The Belmont Stakes is three weeks after the Preakness. This year and next it will be held at Saratoga and be run at 1¼ miles rather than the traditional 1½ miles.

Baffert still has Imagination in Saturday’s race. He was second in the Santa Anita Derby, behind Stronghold, and won the San Felipe Stakes. Baffert also brought Mirahmadi, named for Santa Anita and Saratoga race caller Frank Mirahmadi, running in an allowance race on Saturday.

Despite his two Triple Crowns, six Kentucky Derby wins, eight Preakness wins and three Belmont Stakes wins, Baffert is always bracing for the gut punch. It’s part of the business.

Baffert saod Wednesday’s news reminded him of a scene in the movie “The Natural.”

“There was the character Pop Fisher, who was played by Wilford Brimley. Whenever he was in a tough spot, he would always say, ‘I shoulda been a farmer.’

“Well, I shoulda been a farmer.”

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