Favored Mage will leave from post three in Preakness

“I’ve been around this my whole life,” trainer John Salzman, Jr. said Monday evening. “I remember them all. I’ve done the infield. I’ve done the outfield. I’ve been to a lot of them.”

What he hasn’t done – yet – is saddle a Preakness starter. He’ll check that box Saturday, when he sends out Maryland-bred Coffeewithchris in the 148th running of the the Middle Jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.

“I’ve been very fortunate, but this is the one I’ll remember most,” he acknowledged.

Coffeewithchris, 20-1 on the morning line set by Pimlico linemaker Keith Feustle, will leave from the four-hole with regular pilot Jaime Rodriguez aboard.

“Every time we lead him over there, he runs,” Salzman said. “We put blinkers on him; that helped. Jaime Rodriguez helped. I mean, it all worked out.”

Coffeewithchris has won two stakes, including the one-mile Miracle Wood at Laurel Park Feb. 18. Most recently he was fifth in the Federico Tesio Stakes at that same track.

When the dust had settled, eight horses were entered in Saturday’s Preakness. One stall to Coffeewithchris’ inside will be Kentucky Derby winner Mage. Mage will again have Javier Castellano up and is a solid 8-5 morning line favorite.

“I’m fine with it,” Mage’s assistant trainer and co-owner Gustavo Delgado, Jr. said of his charge’s post position. “Anything but the one-hole. It’s eight horses; it’s not 20.”


Mage’s late-running style proved a huge asset in the Kentucky Derby May 6, when several horses set torrid early fractions. That enabled Mage, a three-year-old son of Good Magic, to rally from 16th place to defeat Two Phil’s by a length.

None of Mage’s Derby rivals has come to Baltimore; nor have many horses with early speed. Coffeewithchris, the Brad Cox-trained First Mission, and Bob Baffert trainee National Treasure are the only runners that appear to have the early lick to get to the front in the race’s opening stages, and none is a confirmed need-the-lead sort.

But Delgado said he wasn’t worried about the potential for moderate early fractions.

“As long as he’s in a good rhythm and relaxing the first part of the race: that’s what I want to see,” he said.

Mage on the track at Pimlico May 15. Photo Allison Janezic.

National Treasure, stakes-placed three times including a third-place finish in last fall’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, most recently was fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride him, and the duo will leave from the inside post.

National Treasure, a colt by Quality Road, will wear blinkers in the Preakness after two starts without them. The combination of blinkers-on, the inside post position, and the lack of other speed types make it likely he will be on the lead or part of the early pace. He is 4-1 on the morning line.

Cox’s First Mission will leave from the outermost post with Luis Saez up. He is 5-2 on the morning line after a hard-fought victory in the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland last out. Lexington show horse Disarm returned with a very credible fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

First Mission’s development came too late to secure a spot in the Derby starting gate, but he now owns two wins in three starts. In the immediate aftermath of the Street Sense colt’s April 15 win in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington, Cox intimated that he would be a Preakness horse.

“We’ve liked him for a while now,” the trainer said. “Always thought that he’d a horse that was at his best around two turns. Maybe even further than this today. We certainly think he could get, I don’t know, a mile and 3/16 maybe.”

The Preakness, of course, is 1 3/16 miles.

The only other horse in single digits on the morning line is Blazing Sevens. The Chad Brown trainee, lined at 6-1 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, is in post number seven.

In addition to Rodriguez aboard Coffeewithchris, two other locally-based riders have Preakness mounts. Sheldon Russell will ride Chase the Chaos (50-1), and Feargal Lynch will ride Perform (15-1), who was supplemented by his connections into the race for a $150,000 fee.

Meanwhile, on a picture-perfect evening at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery outside of Baltimore, Salzman was enjoying the moment.

“We know we’re shooting for the moon, but with Pimlico and only having to ship 20 minutes, we’re looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m not sure this is a Classic horse, but he deserves a chance.”


  1. National Treasure (4-1) – Trainer Bob Baffert/jockey John Velazquez
  2. Chase the Chaos (50-1) – Ed Moger, Jr./Sheldon Russell
  3. Mage (8-5) – Gustavo Delgado, Sr./Javier Castellano
  4. Coffeewithchris (20-1) – John Salzman, Jr./Jaime Rodriguez
  5. Red Route One (10-1) – Steve Asmussen/Joel Rosario
  6. Perform (15-1) – Shug McGaughey/Feargal Lynch
  7. Blazing Sevens (6-1) – Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz, Jr.
  8. First Mission (5-2) – Brad Cox/Luis Saez