Horse Race

Baffert’s National Treasure wins Preakness as another death mars day | Preakness Stakes

Bob Baffert’s National Treasure held off Blazing Sevens in a heart-pounding stretch duel to win the Preakness Stakes by a head on Saturday, only hours after the decorated trainer’s return to the Triple Crown stage after a two-year suspension was marred when one of his horses was euthanized on the track.

“He fought the whole way,” said John Velazquez, the Hall of Fame jockey who finally broke his Preakness hoodoo after failing to win in his first 12 attempts. “He put up a really good fight. … That’s what champions do.”

Mage, the Kentucky Derby champion who went off as the 7-5 favorite, finished third in the 1 3/16-mile race after finding himself trapped on the backstretch and coming in 2 1/4 lengths behind the front-running pair. The seven horses entered represented the smallest Preakness field since 1986.

Baffert’s eighth win in the Preakness eclipsed the longstanding record of seven first set by RW Walden in the 1800s, but was left to fight back tears over in the winner’s circle over the latest high-profile equine death.

“Losing that horse earlier really hurts,” Baffert said. “It’s been a very emotional day.”

Earlier Saturday in the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes, the Baffert-trained Havnameltdown broke down on the far turn and threw jockey Luis Saez off his back before continuing to run down the stretch.

The distressed three-year-old black colt was corralled by veterinary staff and led behind a black tent where he was put down, a grim scene that played out as Lil Jon’s Get Low played at ear-splitting volumes from a concert stage only a few hundred feet away in the infield.

A riderless Havnameltdown trails the field in the Chick Lang Stakes after suffering a catastrophic leg injury during the sixth race prior to the 148th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday in Baltimore.A riderless Havnameltdown trails the field in the Chick Lang Stakes after suffering a catastrophic leg injury during the sixth race prior to the 148th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday in Baltimore. Photograph: Jerry Jackson/AP

“He sustained a really severe injury of his left front ankle,” track veterinarian Scott Hay said. “It was basically impossible to transport him and they had to euthanize him humanely on the grounds immediately.”

Saez, one of the leading jockeys in the US, was stretchered off the dirt course and taken by ambulance to a nearby Sinai Hospital for evaluation, where track officials said he was conscious with full movement of his extremities but complaining of leg pain.

“We never had an issue with him,” Baffert said. “We do grieve when these things happen. There is nothing worse than coming back and the stall is empty. He is a nice horse. He could not have been doing any better.”

The Chick Lang was the sixth race on a 14-race card headlined by the Preakness, the middle jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown and one of the few days when the sport attracts mainstream attention in the US.

The fatality in Baltimore came only two weeks after the Kentucky Derby was overshadowed by the deaths of seven horses at Louisville’s Churchill Downs in a 10-day span, including two on the day of the race.

The 70-year-old Baffert was back in the spotlight following a two-year ban from Churchill Downs stemming from Medina Spirit’s stripped win at the 2021 Kentucky Derby after testing positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid. Medina Spirit died after a workout in December 2021.

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