Preakness favorite Muth scratched after spiking fever

BALTIMORE -- Preakness favorite Muth has been ruled out of the race after spiking a fever, removing a horse trained by Bob Baffert and potentially giving Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan a clearer path through the second leg of the Triple Crown.

The Maryland Jockey Club announced Muth's status change Wednesday morning, roughly 12 hours after the horse arrived at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Baffert said Muth's temperature reached 103 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) and the camp had no choice but to scratch him.

"We are sick about this. The horse had been doing really well," Baffert said. "But we have to do what's right by the horse."

Muth was one of two horses entered for Baffert, a Hall of Famer and two-time winner of the Triple Crown who is still expected to saddle Imagination as part of what's now a field of eight. Baffert has won the Preakness a record eight times, including last year with National Treasure.

Baffert was not expected to fly in until Thursday, though assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes accompanied the horses on their flight to Newark, New Jersey, and the drive down to Maryland. Barnes said little outside their stalls earlier Wednesday other than that Muth and Imagination had not been out to the track yet and just walked around the barn since being unloaded.

At the post-position draw Monday, Muth opened as the 8-5 favorite, with Mystik Dan second at 5-2 and Imagination and Brad Cox-trained Catching Freedom tied for third at 6-1. Catching Freedom has stood out on the track for his feistiness, but Muth was widely considered the horse to beat, with his front-running speed making it a bigger challenge for Mystik Dan and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

"It takes a lot out of the equation," said Ray Bryner, the assistant trainer for Mystik Dan. "We don't have to worry about him, so there's eight horses now and we can kind of run our race and not worry about chasing the horse they call the favorite."

Muth had beaten a field that included Mystik Dan, who finished third, in the Arkansas Derby on March 30. Bryner said he was "confident we were going to get revenge" after a rough trip that day.

That was Muth's last race because of Baffert's ban at Churchill Downs prohibiting him from entering anyone in the Kentucky Derby, won by Mystik Dan by a nose in the closest finish since 1947. Mystik Dan, with experience winning on a sloppy track that the Preakness could be run on with rain in the forecast, now figures to become the favorite.

Word of Muth being scratched spread quickly through Pimlico, and Bryner had to let Kenny McPeek know as Mystik Dan's trainer was traveling.

"I'm sure there's a lot of disappointed people on that end of it," Bryner said. "I'm not disappointed, I have to be honest. With him out of the race, it makes us pretty strong. Especially if we get the off (muddy) track like he's shown he can already handle, I think we're in pretty good shape."

The last horse to win the Derby and Preakness was Baffert's Justify in 2018 on the way to the Triple Crown, the 13th in the sport's history. A victory by Mystik Dan on Saturday would set up a first-of-its-kind opportunity with a Triple Crown on the line at the Belmont Stakes taking place at historic Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York in each of the next two years while the race's traditional home on Long Island undergoes reconstruction.