Bob Baffert is back.
The embattled trainer brought a horse to a Triple Crown race for the first time in two years on Saturday, and he left with the trophy.
The Baffert-trained National Treasure outdueled the Chad Brown-trained Blazing Sevens down the stretch to win the 148th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Kentucky Derby winner Mage, who left the starting gate as the favorite at 7-5 odds, finished third.
Baffert set a record with his eighth victory in the Preakness Stakes, and delivered an emotional interview to NBC after the race.
“It’s good to be back,” Baffert said, just hours after another horse he trained had to be euthanized on the Pimlico track.
“I love Pimlico. I love Baltimore. I love these horses,” Baffert said. “That’s why we get through these tough times together.”
Baffert’s previous seven wins in the Preakness Stakes all came with horses that previously ran in the Kentucky Derby, but National Treasure didn’t.
He was last seen running fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in early April. National Treasure is now 2-1-2 in six career starts.
While Baffert has been absent from the Triple Crown circuit in recent years following Medina Spirit’s disqualification as the 2021 Kentucky Derby champion, he’s set to be able to make a full return next year.
Baffert is eligible to return to Churchill Downs in Louisville for the track’s September Meet and the 2024 Kentucky Derby.
“He’s been through a lot. He’s been treated really unfairly,” Sol Kumin, one of National Treasure’s owners, told The Washington Post when asked why he kept the horse under Baffert’s care. “He’s our guy and will continue to be so.”
Jockey John Velazquez secured his first Preakness Stakes victory aboard National Treasure, who went off at 5-2 odds. This was Velazquez’s 13th mount in the Preakness.
He was the oldest jockey in the race at 51 years old.
Saturday’s race was controlled by National Treasure, who led the field of seven with a pedestrian pace. The opening half-mile was run in 48.92 seconds and the winning time for the race was 1:55:12.
“He did not want to let that horse pass him,” Velazquez told The Washington Post of National Treasure’s duel with Blazing Sevens. “That’s what champions do.”
National Treasure settled onto the lead straight out of the gate while Mage was in fourth, before dropping back to 3 lengths off the lead with just a half-mile to go.
Despite being moved to the outside by jockey Javier Castellano, himself a two-time Preakness Stakes winner, Mage had to settle for a backseat view as Blazing Sevens, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., and National Treasure engaged in a one-on-one battle in the stretch, with National Treasure winning by a neck.
The result means a Triple Crown will not be on the line in three weeks in the Belmont Stakes in New York. No horse has won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes consecutively since Justify in 2018.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) May 20, 2023
Full order of Preakness finish
According to NBC, National Treasure is the first horse to win the Preakness Stakes after switching to wearing blinkers for the race since 1929 (Dr. Freeland).
A $1 superfecta with National Treasure, Blazing Sevens, Mage and Red Route One would have paid $72.40
▪ National Treasure
▪ Blazing Sevens
▪ Red Route One
▪ Chase the chaos
Preakness field smallest since 1986
The defining narratives surrounding the 2023 Kentucky Derby centered around equine fatalities and safety.
Two weeks later, those same themes came to the surface again for the Preakness Stakes, along with a focus on an overall poor race field.
Of the 23 horses that entered the Derby, only one — the winner Mage — opted to run in the Preakness Stakes.
This year marked the first time that only one horse from the Derby is running in the Preakness since the current Triple Crown spacing format — two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes — began in 1969.
With the Friday morning news that First Mission — the winner of April’s Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and the second choice to win the Preakness on the morning line — would be scratched from the race due to a left hind foot injury, an already lackluster field of eight for the Preakness was reduced to just seven horses.
This marked the smallest field of competitors in the Preakness Stakes since 1986.
Mage aside, the other six runners in the race — Blazing Sevens, Chase the Chaos, Coffeewithchris, National Treasure, Perform and Red Route One — brought a combined one graded stakes win (Blazing Sevens in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes last October) into Saturday’s race.
Additionally, the first two races of the 2023 Triple Crown season have now come and gone without last year’s 2-year-old champion, Forte, reaching the starting gate in either race: He was scratched the morning of the Kentucky Derby as the morning-line favorite, and his subsequent stay on the veterinarian’s list ruled him out of the Preakness Stakes.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to a resurgence in discussion about the current Triple Crown race-spacing format.
Mage had to overcome his own mid-week injury to race Saturday night.
On Thursday, Mage suffered a superficial cut on his head during an incident in his barn stall. According to one of his owners, Ramiro Restrepo, Mage resumed training with no interruptions following the injury and was cleared by state veterinarians to race.
Triple Crown season to finish in early June
The final race of the 2023 Triple Crown season — the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York — will take place June 10.
This will be the 155th Belmont Stakes, and the purse will be $1.5 million for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds going 1.5 miles on the track’s dirt surface.
The New York Racing Association will increase the money awarded to the winning connections from 53.3 percent to 60 percent, which means the winning connections for the 2023 Belmont Stakes will take home $900,000.
Several changes, some familiar and some new, are also coming for this year’s Belmont.
Fox Sports will broadcast the Belmont Stakes for the first time this year. The network will broadcast the race through 2030.
Additionally, Tom Durkin will be returning to the broadcast booth to call the race, Fox Sports announced Friday.
In addition to calling the Belmont Stakes, Durkin will announce all races aired during Fox’s Belmont Stakes Day coverage, which will run from 4 to 7:30 p.m. on June 10.
Baffert-trained horse dies after undercard race at Pimlico
Saturday’s racing at Pimlico Race Course featured a tragic moment in the sixth race of the day, when the Baffert-trained Havnameltdown suffered a catastrophic injury during the Grade 3 Chick Lang Stakes.
Havnameltdown suffered a left front ankle injury and was euthanized on the track.
“During the Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico, the No. 1 horse, Havnameltdown, sustained an injury and immediately received on-track medical attention from an expert team of veterinarians led by Dr. Dionne Benson,” read a statement from 1/ST Racing, which owns Pimlico.
“During the subsequent evaluation, she observed a non-operable left fore fetlock injury. Due to the severity and prognosis of the injury, Dr. Benson and her counterparts made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the horse.”
Jockey Luis Saez was thrown from the horse and was taken to the hospital. According to NBC, Saez’s X-rays returned clean and he hopes to take his mounts Sunday.
Baffert released a social media statement following Havnameltdown’s death, which said in part he will be “fully transparent with those reviewing this terrible accident.”
We are just devastated. This is a shock to everyone at our barn who love and care for these horses every day. Hanvameltdown was obviously hit pretty hard coming out of the gate. We don’t know if that contributed to the injury, but we will be fully transparent with those…
— Bob Baffert (@BobBaffert) May 20, 2023
Additionally Saturday, another horse died at Churchill Downs in Louisville, marking the ninth horse to die at the track since late April.
Swanson Lake, a 3-year-old filly trained by Michael McCarthy, was euthanized after being vanned off following the sixth race of the day with a “significant injury to the left hind leg,” according to the Courier-Journal.