Bob Baffert’s voice cracked as he choked back tears while trying to juggle the feelings of one of his horses winning the Preakness Stakes on Saturday and another being euthanized on the same track.
“This business is twists and turns, the ups and downs,” he said. “To win this — losing that horse today really hurt. … It’s been a very emotional day.”
Baffert’s National Treasure won the Preakness in the trainer’s return to the Triple Crown trail following a suspension, but it came hours after another 3-year-old colt, Havnameltdown, was put down because of a left leg injury in an undercard race. The victory ended Mage’s bid for the Triple Crown in a conflicting scene similar to that of two weeks earlier when he won the Kentucky Derby in the aftermath of seven horses dying in 10 days at Churchill Downs.
National Treasure, the 5-2 second choice, held off hard-charging Blazing Sevens down the stretch to win the 1 3/16-mile, $1.65 million race by a head in 1:55.12.
“He fought the whole way,” jockey John Velazquez said. “He put up a really good fight. … That’s what champions do.”
National Treasure paid $7.80 to win, $4 to place and $2.60 to show. Blazing Sevens paid $5 to place and $2.80 to show.
Mage finished third after going off as the 7-5 favorite, paying $2.40 to show. His defeat, caused by a pace much slower than the Derby, means there will not be a Triple Crown winner for a fifth consecutive year.
“I followed every single step of the way, the winner,” Mage jockey Javier Castellano said. “But those horses, with pace, no speed in the race, hard to catch.”
Much like Castellano won the Derby in his 16th try, Velazquez broke an 0-for-12 drought in the Preakness.
“It’s been a while,” Velazquez said. “The success that I had in other races, not having won this one — it was definitely missing, so special to have it.”
Baffert had a rollercoaster day, back at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course from a suspension that kept him from entering a horse in the Preakness last year. The thrill of victories by National Treasure in the Preakness and Arabian Lion in an earlier stakes race contrasted with the agony of Havnameltdown’s death.
Black barriers were propped up on the dirt track while the horse was put down. All the while, 2Pac’s “California Love” blared from the infield speakers at what is intended as an annual daylong celebration of thoroughbred racing.
By evening, Baffert was celebrated for winning the Preakness for a record eighth time, breaking a tie with 19th-century trainer R. Wyndham Walden. In 2018, Baffert matched Walden with seven wins at the Baltimore race with Justify, who went on to become the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner — and Baffert’s second, after American Pharoah ended a lengthy drought for the sport in 2015.
This was Baffert’s first Preakness in two years because of a ban stemming from 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed drug test that led to a disqualification in that race. Medina Spirit was Baffert’s most recent Preakness horse, finishing third.
Baffert didn’t arrive in Baltimore until Thursday this week, seeking to keep a lower profile than usual given the questions that have dogged him and clouded his reputation. A Hall of Famer and a longtime face of horse racing, Baffert sought to move past his suspension when asked Friday.
“We just keep on moving forward,” he said. “We have other horses to worry about. A lot of it is noise, so you keep the noise out and continue working.”
While horse racing deaths in the U.S. are at their lowest level since they began being tracked in 2009, adding another at the track hosting a Triple Crown race will only intensify the internal and external scrutiny of the industry. Those inside it have said they accept the realities of on-track deaths of horses while also acknowledging more work needs to be done to prevent as many as possible.
In that vein, new national medication and doping rules are set to go into effect on Monday. The federally mandated Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, which already regulated racetrack safety and other measures, will oversee drug testing requirements for horses that should standardize the sport nationwide for the first time.