National Treasure Outduels Blazing Sevens In 148th Preakness; Derby Winner Mage Third - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

National Treasure Outduels Blazing Sevens In 148th Preakness; Derby Winner Mage Third

National Treasure and John Velazquez (inside) hold off Blazing Sevens in the Preakness

National Treasure gave Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez his first victory in the Triple Crown's middle jewel, winning a stirring stretch duel with Blazing Sevens and Irad Ortiz Jr. to capture the 148th running of the Preakness Stakes by a head on an afternoon tainted by a fatal injury earlier on the card.

With blinkers added to his equipment, National Treasure went straight to the front of the Grade 1, $1.5-million race for 3-year-olds going 1 3/16 miles, set soft fractions and had just enough at the end to win his first stakes in six starts for an ownership group of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan.

Blazing Sevens made National Treasure work for the victory, with Ortiz guiding his mount over toward the eventual winner from the outside in the stretch run, bumping with him at the sixteenth pole and again nearing the wire. The attempts at intimidation didn't work as National Treasure fought back for the win.

“Everything I asked him to do, got a good break, pumped it outside a little bit, just like the other ones, think what I'm going to do, and got to the turn and went to the inside, saved some ground and got to the backstretch,” said Velazquez. “Saved some ground on the second turn, and when Irad started moving in the 3/8 pole, I stayed in there. But came to the quarter pole and made sure I put a little pressure on him. And he fought the whole way. From the 3/16 pole home, he put in a really good fight. He did not want to let that horse pass. And that's what champions do. He got it done for me.”

It was a bittersweet victory for trainer Bob Baffert, who was winning his record eighth Preakness but saw one of his other horses, the 3-year-old colt Havnameltdown, suffer a fatal injury earlier in the day in the G3 Chick Lang Stakes on the Preakness undercard. It was Baffert's first appearance at a Triple Crown race since the 2021 Preakness when Medina Spirit finished third after winning the Kentucky Derby but then failed a drug test and was eventually disqualified. Baffert was banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. for having multiple drug violations and received a similar ban from the New York Racing Association that ended earlier this year, keeping him out of the Belmont Stakes in 2021 and 2022. Those were private property exclusions, something Pimlico's owner, The Stronach Group, did not follow suit on. However, Baffert was unable to compete in the 2022 Preakness because it fell during the regulatory suspension he received for the Medina Spirit medication violation from the Kentucky Horse Racing Association.

“This business is twists and turns, ups and downs,” Baffert said on the NBC telecast. “We started out great, we had a horrible race and we've been totally wiped out after that horse [Havnameltdown] got hurt. The emotions of this game, there's so many responsibilities a trainer has, employees, horse and jockey safety, and then to win this … Losing that horse today really hurt.”

Final time for the 1 3/16 miles on a fast track was 1:55.12, about two seconds slower than the track record. Second choice in the wagering, National Treasure paid $7.80 to win.

Mage, the Kentucky Derby winner and 7-5 favorite, finished third under Javier Castellano, unable to close after fractions of :23.95, :48.92, 1:13.49, and 1:37.07. He was followed by Red Route One, Chase the Chaos, Perform, and Coffeewithchris.

National Treasure, a Quality Road colt out of the Medaglia d'Oro mare Treasure, was bred in Kentucky by Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds. Blum, in fact, bred the first five dams of the Preakness winner, who was purchased for $500,000 from consignor Bridie Harrison at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale.

The bay colt won his debut at Del Mar last September, then failed to win in four successive stakes tries: second to stablemate Cave Rock in the G1 American Pharoah in October; third to champion Forte in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November; third to stablemate Reincarnate in the G3 Sham in January, and fourth to Practical Move in the G1 Santa Anita Derby in April. For the Santa Anita Derby, National Treasure was trained by Tim Yakteen because of the sanctions by Churchill Downs Inc. that prevented Baffert-trained horses from earning Kentucky Derby points or competing in the Kentucky Derby itself.

Since the Santa Anita Derby, National Treasure had a series of four breezes at Santa Anita for Baffert, who turned up the pressure on the colt in the final two drills. On May 6 he went a best-of-morning six furlongs in 1:11.20 and six days later earned another bullet with a half-mile work in :47.40.

The lead-up to the Preakness, like the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, was eventful.

Connections of the 17 horses who finished behind Mage opted not to pursue the Triple Crown's second leg, leaving just the Derby winner in the starting field of seven – smallest since 1986. This was the first time since the current scheduling of the Derby was established in 1969 – two weeks between the Derby and Preakness, then three weeks until the Belmont – that only one horse ran in both.

One of the non-Derby runners entered in the Preakness, Godolphin's First Mission, winner of the G3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 15, was scratched from the race on Friday with a hind leg problem. He was second choice on the morning line.

Forte, the 2022 champion 2-year-old who was favored to win the Derby, was scratched on the morning of the race because of a foot bruise, and was ruled ineligible to run in the Preakness. A veterinary scratch automatically landed the colt on the vet's list for 14 days, after which he was required to breeze and be drug tested before getting cleared to run.

The six who were left to take on Mage in the Preakness included just one other graded stakes winner, Blazing Sevens, who won the G1 Champagne last October at Aqueduct but was fourth behind Forte in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, eighth in the G2 Fountain of Youth in his 2023 debut and an improved third behind Tapit Trice in the G2 Blue Grass Stakes in April. Red Route One, trained by Steve Asmussen was a late-running colt by Gun Runner coming off a narrow victory at Oaklawn in the Bath House Row Stakes April 22. Chase the Chaos got into the field by winning the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in February, Perform won the Federico Tesio April 15, and Coffeewithchris was a local horse with a pair of stakes wins for trainer John Salzman.

Hanging over the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness was a dark cloud caused by high-profile horse fatalities at Churchill Downs that shared the headlines with the Derby result. Two horses died in races at Churchill Downs on Derby day, and several others succumbed in the days leading up to the race, including Wild On Ice, who suffered a fatal injury training up to the Derby. Racing was in the national media spotlight, for all the wrong reasons.

And then came the calamitous fatality on Preakness day when the Baffert-trained Havnameltdown suffered a catastrophic injury to his left front ankle on the turn for home of the G3 Chick Lang Stakes. Jockey Luis Saez was put on a backboard and taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where Xrays were negative. Saez reportedly said he feels good enough to ride on Sunday.

Havnameltdown was not so fortunate. The 3-year-old colt by Uncaptured was euthanized on the track behind a set of screens held by track attendants to keep the public from seeing the sad ending, then carted off in the horse ambulance.

The death of Havnameltdown was followed by a series of statements. Baffert posted on Twitter that “we are just devastated. This is a shock to everyone at our barn who love and care for these horses every day.”

Track operator 1/ST Racing said its team has “worked tirelessly to implement numerous industry-leading reforms, including additional medication restrictions and new operational requirements, to enhance the existing health and safety measures with the intent of providing the safest racing environment possible.”

The Humane Society of the U.S. said the death “underscores the urgent need for immediate, sweeping reforms in the horse racing industry. … We must collectively strive for a zero-tolerance policy on practices and conditions that produce catastrophic injury to horses.”

That the Preakness winner was trained by Baffert – the Hall of Fame trainer banned by two of the biggest track operators in the country over medication violations and then the person who put the saddle on a horse that died on the Preakness undercard – will only fuel the fires of racing's critics.

With the G1 Belmont Stakes three weeks down the road, the dark clouds circling over the sport will not be chased away by the potential glory of another Triple Crown winner.


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