One of the most mysterious things in the sports world today is finding the formula for a Kentucky Derby winner. How do you make it happen? Bloodlines, workout patterns, prep race competition, what’s the solution? Perhaps it will take a Mystik to find the answer.

  Mystik Dan is a speedy three-year-old that has run himself into Derby contention. An out of this world performance in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on February 3 gave us all some answers about this son of Goldencents.

  Running out of the Ken McPeek barn, Mystik Dan has displayed lots of promise since breaking his maiden in his second career start on November 12, 2023 at Churchill Downs. Fifth place finishes in an allowance race at Churchill to close 2023 and in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park on January 1, 2024 were valuable stepping stones to the magical Southwest Stakes run. There were no incantations uttered or tarot cards used at the McPeek barn that day. It was simply a promising colt that delivered in a big way.

  “I wasn’t surprised at all by his Southwest performance,” says McPeek. “He’s got speed and a lot of talent. In the Smarty Jones he ran well but just got tired. We went into that one short a work because of a lung infection.”

  The Southwest Stakes was a showcase for the versatility that absolutely makes Mystik Dan a Derby contender. Breaking alertly in this eleven horse field, this grandson of Colonel John settled in mid-pack through some moderate early fractions ( 23.56 opening quarter, 47.95 half mile). Saving ground with a rail-riding trip under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., Dan was a patient horse just waiting to pounce. As the runners turned for home and frontrunners drifted out, the opportunity arose. Quicker than a cat, Mystik moved up the rail and opened up impressively. Rolling to the wire a widening eight lengths ahead, Mystik Dan was without question much the best.

  Definitely looking worthy, Mystik Dan will make his first Derby appearance in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Run on March 30, the $1.5 million Arkansas Derby provides good spacing for a run in the Kentucky Derby.

  “He is not a real big horse so keeping him fresh is important,” says McPeek. “The spacing is important and we like how this can set him up.”

  A horse like Mystik Dan always brings excitement to a barn this time of year. McPeek has enjoyed lots of success over the years and had his fair share of Kentucky Oaks and Derby contenders. What makes Mystik Dan a little more special for the winner of almost 2,000 races is the fact his great, great grandfather was 2002 Florida Derby champ Harlan’s Holiday, a McPeek pupil as well.

  “He might just be a better horse than Harlan’s Holiday and that’s saying something,” says McPeek. “This time of year is always exciting and we have been blessed with lots of good horses. Now is when you find out if you are the bug or the windshield.”