On a day marred by a death in Bob Baffert’s barn, his colt, National Treasure, edged out Blazing Sevens by a head to win the 148th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday and give his trainer a record eighth victory in the race.
Baffert, no stranger to controversy, was returning to the Preakness after serving a suspension in connection with a failed drug test by his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, who died later that year. Earlier on Saturday, a horse trained by Baffert sustained a fatal injury in an undercard race as deaths continued to haunt the road to the Triple Crown.
After the race, Baffert fought back tears. “We’ve just been totally wiped out after that horse got hurt,” he said about Havnameltdown, who broke down in the sixth race at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. “The emotions of this game, it’s so much.”
He added later, after more time to reflect on his return: “We’ve been through a tough go, but we knew we’d get through this. It’s the love of the horse that keeps me focused and able to keep the noise out. But it’s days like this, it’s not really vindication, but I feel like we can have a moment that we can enjoy it.”
Compromised by a slow pace, the Derby winner Mage finished third, cutting short the one feel-good story in a grim period for racing.
National Treasure defeated six other contenders in what was seen as a weak field, especially after First Mission, at 5-2 in the morning line, was scratched. Mage went off as a 7-5 favorite, and National Treasure, at 5-2, was the primary alternative.
He covered the mile and three-sixteenths in 1 minute 55.12 seconds and rewarded his backers with $7.80 on a $2 bet to win. It was the first Preakness victory for the Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, a glaring hole in a résumé filled with marquee wins.
“Gosh, it’s been awhile,” Velazquez said. “With all the blessings that I’ve had and all the success I’ve had in other races, not having won this one was definitely missing.”
Before the excitement of the race, there was an air of drama and solemnity surrounding the racetrack. Havnameltdown’s death added to the recent toll of horse fatalities surrounding the Triple Crown races, after seven horses died at Churchill Downs in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby earlier this month.
Havnameltdown buckled around the far turn in the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes, sending his jockey Luis Saez tumbling to the ground. Saez was taken off the track in an ambulance. The colt was euthanized by veterinarians on the racetrack after being examined by a team led by Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer for the company that owns Pimlico.
“During the subsequent evaluation, she observed a non-operable left fore fetlock injury,” the company, the Stronach Group, said in a statement, referring to a joint in the horse’s foreleg. “Due to the severity and prognosis of the injury, Dr. Benson and her counterparts made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Havnameltdown.”
Saez was transported to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore for further evaluation after complaining of leg pain. He was in stable condition and conscious, according to the company.
“Truthfully, it felt like a knife to my heart when I saw it,” Velazquez said of the injuries to the horse and his counterpart, Saez. “It’s devastating when you see it. It’s hard to stay focused and keep going.”
Amid the deaths and the scratches of the past few weeks, the accomplishments of the Derby winner, Mage, were overshadowed. But there was a lot to like about the fast-developing colt and his Venezuelan and small-time owner connections.
He was only the third horse to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old and the fourth to win it with only three previous starts. Another horse that did both? Justify, the most recent Triple Crown winner, in 2018.
Mage’s only two previous losses had come against Forte, the morning-line favorite for the Derby who was scratched the day of the race. Mage was the lone Derby contender in the Preakness.
Still, there was drama when Mage had a mishap in his stall on Thursday and required stitches, one of his owners, Ramiro Restrepo, said Saturday. His trainer, Gustavo Delgado Sr., said after the race that the slow pace was what did his horse in.
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