Last summer, Mystic Guide gave Mike Stidham that “a-ha” moment all trainers look for in their charges; the moment they see a horse “get it.”
It’s a feeling every trainer seeks — the knowledge their horse is understanding their capabilities, how good they can be, and what they can do when they follow the training playbook. Stidham hopes that playbook continues playing to script in this weekend’s Grade 2 Suburban Stakes on Belmont Park’s closing weekend.
That moment came at last summer’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga when Mystic Guide clocked his first triple-digit Equibase Speed Figure (104). That powered him to a three-quarters length victory over Liveyourbeastlife. Jesus’ Team, who would finish third in the Preakness a month later, finished 2 ¼ lengths back in third. Dr Post, the Belmont Stakes runner-up to Tiz the Law, was fourth as the 4/5 favorite.
That 104 Equibase marked an 18-point bump from his previous race — a third in the Grade 3 Peter Pan. From there, Mystic Guide was off and running. He finished a gritty second by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup to Happy Saver at Belmont Park last October.
Mystic Guide gets another crack at Happy Saver on Saturday, as he’s also entered in the Suburban.
Mystic Guide figured it out at the Jim Dandy
“The Jim Dandy was the beginning of him starting to put it all together,” Stidham told the New York Racing Association. “I thought he was unlucky in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It was a cat-and-mouse game that day with the two Ortiz brothers and Johnny (Velazquez) sitting outside of them, and then magically, the rail opened up for Happy Saver. We were unlucky to lose that race.”
Then, Mystic Guide opened his 4-year-old campaign in late February, winning the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park. That six-length romp in the Oaklawn slop came with a career-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure and 115 Equibase.
“Obviously, we don’t really know how much the sloppy track played into that number,” Stidham said. “He came back in the Dubai World Cup and made the number look like it was real, which was good.”
A career-making payday race
Indeed he did. Further proof Mystic Guide “got it” came in that March Dubai World Cup. Jockey Luis Saez put Mystic Guide into a comfortable rhythm, then – knowing he had plenty of horse left — upshifted at the top of the stretch. He cruised home 3 ¼ lengths ahead of Chuwa Wizard for his first Group 1 win and a $7.2 million payday.
Mystic Guide comes into the 1 ¼-mile Suburban at the peak of his powers. He’s riding a two-race winning streak and hasn’t finished worse than second in four events (3-1-0). In fact, the Ghostzapper colt hit the board in all eight of his races (4-2-2). He’s ranked No. 1 in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s latest Thoroughbred poll.
“We’ve given him plenty of time and he’s had three months since that race (Dubai World Cup) to bounce back,” Stidham said. “Looking at him train and his weight and his coat, he’s an absolute picture right now.”