Bob Baffert mourns horse's death as he considers National Treasure's status for Belmont
BALTIMORE — Bob Baffert’s 17th victory in a Triple Crown race wasn’t as joyful as the previous ones.
Sure, Baffert was pleased to see National Treasure win Saturday’s Preakness Stakes after a two-year absence on the Triple Crown trail.
But on Sunday morning the Hall of Fame trainer said he still was mourning the loss of his horse Havnameltdown, who broke down during a Preakness undercard race and had to be euthanized on the track.
“It was nice to win the race, but to me it was a pretty sad day,” Baffert said outside the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course. “We try our best, and these things happen. … It happens and you’re just in shock. It’s like, ‘How could that happen?’ It hurts. I’ll always remember this race as, ‘I lost a good horse.’
“My memory of this race is going to be about him. It just took all the fun out of it.”
National Treasure and John Velazquez led for the first mile, briefly gave up the lead to Blazing Sevens and then regrouped to win the $1.65 million, Grade 1 Preakness by a neck. Baffert won the Preakness for the eighth time, breaking a tie with R. Wyndham Walden (1875-88) for the most by any trainer.
Kentucky Derby winner Mage finished third, and jockey Javier Castellano — among others — bemoaned the soft early fractions that allowed National Treasure to coast for much of the race — 23.95 seconds for the quarter-mile, 48.92 seconds for the half-mile and 1:13.49 for three-quarters.
National Treasure wins Preakness Stakes: Bob Baffert victorious in Triple Crown return
Troubling trend continues: Swanson Lake is ninth horse death at Churchill Downs since late April
With that in mind, Baffert said he wasn’t surprised to see National Treasure showing no sign of fatigue Sunday morning.
“He didn’t run hard,” Baffert said. “He ran the last quarter (mile). They were just galloping around there. It wasn’t a really taxing race.”
Baffert said adding blinkers also helped National Treasure focus.
“With the blinkers he just blew out of the gate and put himself in the race right away,” Baffert said. “He hadn’t broke like that since he broke his maiden, so I think the blinkers really helped him come out running.”
Baffert said National Treasure is among three horses he’s considering for the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes on June 10, though Sir Barton winner Arabian Lion is more likely to try a shorter race.
Baffert said National Treasure should relish the longer distance of the Belmont because of his breeding — a Quality Road colt out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Treasure.
He said he’s also still waiting for National Treasure to mature into his frame.
“He’s going to get much better,” Baffert said. “The distance — a mile and a quarter, a mile and a half — that’s what he wants to do. Going shorter, I had those other speed horses and he was having trouble with them. But the mile and a half will be right up his alley.”
Reincarnate, back with Baffert after being transferred to Tim Yakteen for the Kentucky Derby, also could be a “last-minute call” for the Belmont, Baffert said. Reincarnate finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby.
'Overkill' or status quo?: Recent horse racing deaths cast shadow before Preakness Stakes
Neither Blazing Sevens nor Mage is expected to run in the Belmont. Here’s a look at horses who are considered possible to run in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Angel of Empire — The Brad Cox trainee finished third in the Kentucky Derby.
Arcangelo — He won the Grade 3 Peter Pan, a traditional prep race for the Belmont that was held May 13. The son of Arrogate is trained by Jena Antonucci.
Forte — Florida Derby winner was scratched as the morning-line favorite in the Kentucky Derby because of a bruised foot. The Todd Pletcher trainee breezed a half-mile in 50.31 seconds Sunday morning at Belmont Park.
Kingsbarns — Pletcher trainee finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby.
Prove Worthy — Pletcher trainee won a maiden special weight May 2 at Churchill Downs.
Raise Cain — Ben Colebrook trainee finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby.
Red Route One — Trainer Steve Asmussen said his fourth-place Preakness finisher was likely to go on to the Belmont. “It appears he stays all day,” Asmussen said.
Sun Thunder — Kenny McPeek trainee finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby.
Tapit Trice — Pletcher trainee finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby.
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Bob Baffert mourning and considers Preakness winner for Belmont Stakes