Preakness Review 2023: Emotional Baffert Treasures National’s Gutsy Win

Bob BaffertThe 148th Preakness Stakes produced a blood-pumping finish for bettors who chose to follow the 3/1 second favorite, National Treasure at Pimlico on May 20. Having led from flagfall under John Velazquez he was briefly headed by Blazing Sevens (5/1) in the stretch but managed to resist the close-combat challenge that continued to the wire to win by a head.

Mage, the Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite at 7/5 took third, two and a half lengths behind them. He was ridden closer to the pace than at Churchill Downs by Javier Castellano and responded when asked for an effort at the quarter pole but never looked likely to reach the leading pair. Having run the race of his life last time out he suffered an injury to his eye that required stitches a few days before the Preakness. His trainer Gustavo Delgado knew it was a tough assignment and was not disappointed with his run.

Steve Asmussen’s Red Route One (8/1) finished a quarter of a length behind Mage in fourth. The appropriately named Chase The Chaos (10/1) took fifth, beaten 12 and a half lengths with the more popular Perform (17/2) and Coffeewithchris (10/1) behind him in that order. First Mission was scratched, leaving a field of only seven.

National Treasure gave the 51-year-old Velazquez his first Preakness victory. He praised the colt for giving him everything when he needed it. For his trainer Bob Baffert it was a record-breaking eighth win in the race and a very emotional one. His experiences with the racing authorities are well documented: He is not permitted to run his horses at Churchill Downs after drug use breaches. Top level success provided a much-needed boost for him and his team.

The day included a welcome win for them in the grade three Sir Barton Stakes with Arabian Lion but it was darkened by the loss of Havnameltdown who sustained a fatal injury in the Chick Lang Stakes. Baffert has been training for 43 years and knows the ups and downs of racing better than most but his battles with the racing authorities, and the fallout on social media, have been brutal. He paid tribute to his wife and family for their invaluable support.

National Treasure’s victory also boosted the spirits of his owners who have continued to support Baffert through his troubles. They include SF Racing, Madaket Stables, Starlight Racing, Robert Masterton, Stonestreet Stables, Waves Edge Capital, Jay Schoenfarber and Catherine Donovan. Other owners chose to move their horses to other trainers on a permanent basis as Baffert’s drug use issues with his horses resulted in bans at key racing tracks.

A son of Quality Road out of Treasure, a Medaglia d’Oro mare, National Treasure did not come cheap. Bred by Peter Blum Thoroughbreds, he was bought for $500,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sales. Most recently he finished a promising fourth in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. As a juvenile he was third at the Breeder’s Cup, he was followed by Blazing Sevens, a length and a half behind him. History was repeated in the Preakness but without Forte and Cave Rock ahead of them at the wire.

What next for National Treasure?

National Treasure has reportedly come out of the Preakness without any issues and does not appear to be fatigued by his efforts. Tom Ryan of SF Racing has announced that he will be shipped to New York in the next few days in preparation for a tilt at the third jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes on June 10. Ryan believes there is every reason to try National Treasure over the slightly longer distance of a mile and a half at Belmont Park.

The second-placed Blazing Sevens, saddled by Chad Brown and owned by Rodeo Creek Racing LLC, will not be pointed at the Belmont. He came into the Preakness on the back of a third placing in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 8 and is usually given a month between engagements. A summer campaign that could include the Travers Stakes on August 26 at Saratoga has been mentioned for this son of Good Magic.

Mage, another son of Good Magic, is likely to follow a similar path. The Preakness was the first time he had been asked to race twice in a fortnight. He had previously been given four weeks between starts and did not hit the track as a two-year-old.

Ryan has stated that Reincarnate, owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing et al, will also be considered for the Belmont. He was last seen finishing 13th, 25 lengths behind Mage in the Kentucky Derby. Prior to the Run For The Roses this Good Magic colt temporarily trained by Tim Yakteen was third in the Arkansas Derby on April 2, beaten five lengths. Now back with Baffert, it will be a last-minute decision as he lost a considerable amount of weight after his last run.

More serious opposition to National Treasure’s Belmont chances could be provided by Forte, the champion two-year-old trained by Todd Pletcher for Repole Stable and St Elias Stable. Forte was the Kentucky Derby favorite but had to be scratched for veterinary reasons. He was last seen beating Mage a length in the Florida Derby on April 1 and also took the Fountain of Youth in March.

If Forte runs in the 2023 Belmont Stakes expect National Treasure to be second favorite at best.