Bob Baffert held back tears and his voice broke as he tried to evoke the emotions of one of his horses and another being euthanized at the same track.
“This business is twists and turns, ups and downs,” he said. “To win it – really hurt to lose that horse today. … It’s been a very emotional day.”
National Treasure won the Preakness on Saturday in Baffert’s return to the Triple Crown trail after suspension, but it came hours after another 3-year-old colt, HavenMeltdown, was put down with a left leg injury in an undercard race. The win ended Madge’s bid for the Triple Crown in a conflicting scene similar to two weeks earlier when she won the Kentucky Derby after seven horse deaths in 10 days at Churchill Downs.
National Treasure, the 5-2 second choice, held off the 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 all the way,” said jockey John Velazquez. “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. The Blazing Sevens paid $5 for space and $2.80 for appearances.
Madge finished third after going off as the 7-5 favorite, paying $2.40 to show. His defeat due to a much slower pace than the Derby meant that there would be no Triple Crown winner for the fifth year in a row.
Maz jockey Javier Castellano said, “I followed him every single step of the way, winner.” “But those horses, with speed, not race speed, are hard to catch.”
Just as Castellano won the Derby in his 16th attempt, Velazquez broke his 0-for-12 drought in the Preakness.
“It’s been a while,” Velazquez said. “Without winning the success I had in other races – it was definitely missing, so getting it is very special.”
It was a rollercoaster day for Baffert after returning to Pimlico Race Course following a suspension that had prevented him from entering a horse in the Preakness last year. The thrill of victories in earlier stakes races by National Treasure in the Pekness and Arabian Lion stood in stark contrast to the agony of Heavenmeltdown’s death.
Black barriers were placed on the dirt path while the horse was being held down. All the while, 2Pac’s “California Love” blared from the infield speakers, intended as an annual celebration of Thoroughbred racing.
By evening, Baffert was celebrated for winning the Preakness for a record eighth time, breaking a tie with nineteenth century trainer R. Wyndham Walden. In 2018, Baffert tied Walden with seven wins at the Baltimore race with Justify, who went on to become the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner – and after American Pharoah ended a long drought for the sport in 2015. The second of
This was Baffert’s first Preakness in two years due to a ban stemming from the failed drug test of 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, which led to his disqualification in that race. Medina Spirit was Baffert’s most recent Preakness horse, finishing third.
Baffert did not arrive in Baltimore until Thursday this week, seeking to keep a lower-than-usual profile in view of the questions that have dogged him and tarnished his reputation. Baffert, a Hall of Famer and longtime face of horse racing, sought to move on from his suspension when asked on Friday.
“We just keep moving forward,” he said. “We have other horses to worry about. A lot of it is noise, so you just keep the noise out and keep working.”
While horse racing deaths in the US are at their lowest level since the track began tracking them in 2009, adding another at a track hosting Triple Crown races will only intensify internal and external scrutiny of the industry. Those inside have said they accept the realities of on-track deaths of horses, while also acknowledging that more work needs to be done to prevent them.
In that vein, new national drug and doping rules are due to come into force on Monday. The federally mandated Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, which already regulates racetrack safety and other measures, will oversee drug testing requirements for horses that should standardize the sport nationwide for the first time.