The Baffert-trained National Treasure dawdled on the front end and withstood a late charge from Blazing Sevens to win Saturday’s $1.65 million, Grade 1 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course by a head and thrust Baffert back into the Triple Crown spotlight after a two-year absence.
“You take a lot of knocks,” Baffert said. “You have to be tough to stay in this game. … This is why we work so hard.”
National Treasure and jockey John Velazquez covered the 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:55.12 and paid $7.80 to win on a $2 wager.
Mage, the Kentucky Derby winner, finished 2 ¼ lengths behind Blazing Sevens in third.
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“With no speed in the race, it’s hard to catch up with a horse that comes from behind,” Mage jockey Javier Castellano said. “My horse responded, but I couldn’t catch those other two horses. They opened up, and the race was over.”
Baffert picked up his record eighth victory in the Preakness, breaking a tie with R. Wyndham Walden, who won seven from 1875-88.
Throw in six Kentucky Derby wins and three Belmont triumphs and Baffert now has 17 Triple Crown victories, but he might have more were it not for recent suspensions.
Baffert’s Medina Spirit crossed the finish line first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby but ultimately was disqualified after testing positive for betamethasone, a banned substance on race day. Suspensions from Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association kept Baffert out of the 2021 Belmont, all three Triple Crown races in 2022 and this year’s Kentucky Derby.
“This business is twists and turns, ups and downs,” Baffert said. “We’ve been totally wiped out after that horse got hurt. … Losing that horse today really hurt.”
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Wearing blinkers for the first time in an attempt to improve his focus, National Treasure broke from the gate first and was able to settle with fractions of 23.95 seconds for the quarter-mile, 48.92 seconds for the half-mile and 1:13.49 for three-quarters.
“That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame,” Baffert said of Velazquez, who got his first Preakness victory. “I always feel confident when Johnny is on my horse.”
Blazing Sevens pulled even with a furlong to go and briefly took the lead on the outside of National Treasure but couldn’t hold on.
“The winner showed a lot of heart to battle back, so you have to give him credit,” Blazing Sevens trainer Chad Brown said. “I knew the race was void of speed, but I thought they’d have a little more pressure. … We didn’t have quite the trip we wanted. That’s horse racing.”
It was the first Preakness in 75 years to include just one horse (Mage) who had previously competed in the Kentucky Derby. In 1948, Citation was the only Kentucky Derby horse to compete in the Preakness. He won both on his way to capturing the Triple Crown.
Saturday’s seven-horse field was the smallest for the Preakness since 1986, when Snow Chief win in a seven-horse field.
National Treasure improved to 2-1-2 in six career starts for the ownership group of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital and Catherine Donovan.
The son of Quality Road closed his 2-year-old campaign with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and entered the Preakness off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. In that race, National Treasure had been transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen in an attempt to earn qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby. Baffert was unable to do so because of his suspension at Churchill Downs.
Baffert was unsure whether National Treasure would head to the final leg of the Triple Crown — the Belmont on June 10.
“We’re going to see how he comes out of it,” Baffert said. “(Velazquez) said he had trouble pulling him up. I hope he didn’t take too much out of him by letting him go so far out. We’ll see how hard of a toll it takes. … He looked great after the race, so it didn’t look like it was really taxing on him.”
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Preakness Stakes 2023: Trainer Bob Baffert's National Treasure wins