By US Racing Team
Cheering at the finish, choking up in the post-race interview, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert had a record return to the Triple Crown series.
National Treasure was sent right to the lead by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and fought off a stretch-long challenge by Blazing Sevens to win the $1.65 million Preakness Stakes (G1) by a head at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday.
Baffert not only won his 17th Triple Crown race, but now owns the record with eight Preakness victories, one more than R. Wyndham Walden. It was Baffert’s first Triple Crown race since the 2021 Preakness, when Medina Spirit (disqualified from his first-place finish in the Derby by Churchill Downs) ran third.
The day was marred by tragedy as the Baffert-trained Havnameltdown broke down in the Chick Lang Stakes (G3) about 5 ½ hours earlier and was euthanized on the track.
Baffert, coming off a two-year suspension by Churchill Downs due to Medina Spirit’s positive test for race day medication overage, teared up moments after his Preakness win.
“The twists and turns, the ups and downs, the emotions of this game,’’ Baffert said, choking up several times. “I really couldn’t get into the race. Just couldn’t get into the day. But when he crossed the finish line it brought us back … he wouldn’t let that horse pass him. He fought. He dug in. The horse deserved it.”
A field of seven – the smallest since 1986 when Snow Chief beat Derby winner Ferdinand – broke well and National Treasure set early fractions of 23.95 seconds for the first quarter and a slow 48.92 for a half mile. Mage, under Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano, seemed in good position in third but never made serious move for the lead.
When the field turned for home, National Treasure was still ahead but Blazing Sevens, with Irad Ortiz, Jr., aboard, pressed him through the lane. The two were saddlecloth to saddlecloth before National Treasure made a final surge for Baffert’s historic victory.
The winning time over a fast track was 1:55.12. National Treasure, the 5-2 second betting choice, paid $7.80 on a $2 win bet. Mage was the 7-5 favorite.
National Treasure was one of the six fresh horses in the 1 3-16-mile Preakness. It marked the first time since 1948, when Citation won the Triple Crown, that only one horse ran back in the Preakness.
While Baffert was distraught at the loss of yet another thoroughbred on one of racing’s biggest days, he smiled and hugged his son Bode as National Treasure crossed the finish line.
“I’m happy for everybody,’’ Baffert, whose previous seven Preakness winners all ran in the Derby (He was 0-for-6 with runner who bypassed the Derby). “I love Baltimore.”
Velazquez, a three-time Derby winner and two-time Belmont winner, won his first Preakness. He was 0-for-12.
“It’s very special to have it. Looking at the pace I didn’t (think) we were going to go any faster than (we did),’’ Velazquez said. “I was hoping, anyway. The other horse that was right next to me. It seemed like he was not going that fast, so I was hoping we didn’t go too fast. At least we had something to fight with.”
Red Route One was fourth, followed by Chase the Chaos, Perform, and Coffeewithchris.
Mage and National Treasure have something in common – they came into their Triple Crown races with only a maiden win on their resumes.
National Treasure came into the Preakness off a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and did not have enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. He improved his record to 6-2-1-2 with earnings of $133,500.
In the $300,000 Chick Lang Stakes (G3), tragedy struck again on a big day in racing. Havnameltdown, the 4-5 favorite, broke down leaving the three-eighths pole and was euthanized on the track after sustaining a left front ankle injury.
Jockey Luis Saez was unseated, taken to a hospital, released later, and planned to ride again on Sunday.
The 3-year-old colt had won four of seven starts for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. Prior to his injury, Havnameltdown brushed with Frosted Reputation at the five-eighths pole.
Baffert has been under scrutiny for years after several of his horses were among dozens who died at Santa Anita a few years ago. And this death comes just two weeks after seven horses died at Churchill Downs in a 10-day period, including two on Derby Day May 6.
“We never had an issue with him. We are so careful with all these horses, and it still happens. It is something that is disheartening. I feel so bad for that horse, and I just hope that Luis is OK. The way he was riding him; the horse was moving; he was going on with it. He looked like the winner … it’s the worst feeling,’’ Baffert said. “And we grieve. We do grieve when these things happen. There is nothing worse than coming back and the stall is empty. He is a nice horse. He could not have been doing any better. It’s sickening. I am in shock.”
|Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|Todd A. Pletcher
|Todd A. Pletcher
|Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.
|Kenneth G McPeek
|Red Route One
|Steve M. Asmussen
|Angel of Empire
|Todd A. Pletcher
|Brad H. Cox
|Jena M. Antonucci
|John R. Velazquez
|Todd A. Pletcher
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.