Steven Wyno (AP sportswriter)
BALTIMORE (AP) — Bob Baffert tries to juggle conflicting emotions after seeing a horse euthanized on the same track hours later and one of his horses winning the Preakness Stakes. As he did so, he held back tears and his voice cracked.
“This business has its ups and downs,” said the Hall of Fame trainer. “To win this, to lose that horse today really hurt. …It’s been a very emotional day.”
National Treasure won at Preakness on Saturday, returning Baffert from suspension as a Triple Crown winner, ending Kentucky Derby champion Mage’s challenge for the Triple Crown at this race, but Baffert is now , has won more than any other trainer. But that joy was tempered by the bitterness of Havna Meltdown, also a three-year-old colt, who injured his left front leg on the undercard and was demoted.
“It’s the most uncomfortable feeling for a trainer when he gets hurt,” Baffert said. “I lost momentum in the afternoon.”
Also two weeks after seven horses died in the ten days leading up to the Derby at Churchill Downs, Derby racing has returned squarely to a familiar place.
National Treasure did not run in the Derby at Churchill Downs, but Baffert did not because 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit was disqualified from the race after failing a drug test. He has been banned from racing for the past two years due to a suspension. Medina Spirit was Baffert’s most recent Preakness runner in third.
Second-choice National Treasure won Saturday with a record of 5 wins and 2 losses, giving Baffert a record-breaking eighth victory in preakness and a record-breaking 17th victory in the Triple Crown race, the most of any trainer. National Treasure held off the chasing Blazing Sevens to the end, winning the 1 3/16 mile, $1.65 million race by a head in 1:55.12.
“He fought to the end,” said Jon Velázquez, who won Preakness for the first time on his 13th attempt. “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. Blazing Sevens paid $5 for the standings and $2.80 for the show.
Mage finished in third place after losing to the 7-5 favourites, paying $2.40 for the show. Despite the smallest preakness field since 1986, the leading horses were much slower than the Derby, which didn’t help Mage’s style of trailing behind and overtaking tired rivals.
“Slow, very slow,” said mage trainer Gustavo Delgado Sr.
Mage’s loss marks the fifth consecutive year without a Triple Crown winner since Baffert’s Justify in 2018.
After the American Pharoahs ended a 37-year triple crown drought in 2015, Baffert became the face of the sport. But since Medina Spirit’s derby defeat, Baffert has become a polarizing figure. A suspension at Churchill Downs and a suspension in Kentucky recognized by Maryland and New York last year forced him to miss Preakness and Belmont.
On Saturday he returned to major racing and was back in the winner’s circle thanks to National Treasure.
“It wouldn’t be possible without a group of owners who have supported me through all the negative and bad things that have happened to me over the last few years,” Baffert said. “On days like this, there is nothing really right.
Even that wasn’t easy, given the harrowing scene earlier in the day when Havna Meltdown stumbled and put down jockey Luis Saez.
A black fence was propped up on the dirt track while Saez was being treated and the horse was being euthanized. All the while, 2Pac’s “California Love” blared from the infield speakers and what was meant to be an all-day celebration of the annual thoroughbred race.
“When I saw it, I felt like I had a knife in my heart,” Velázquez said. “It’s devastating to see. When a horse suffers like this, so does the rider on it.”
Saez went to the hospital but was conscious and his agent said an x-ray was negative.
Baffert said he still grieves for Havna Meltdown, even as he expressed concern for Saez.
“We still miss the horse, and it will be for a while,” he said.
Racing fatalities in the U.S. are at their lowest level since tracking began in 2009, but one more fatality at a Triple Crown racetrack would trigger increased scrutiny both inside and outside the industry. will be strengthened. Officials said they accepted the reality of horse deaths on racetracks, but also acknowledged that more needs to be done to prevent as many horses as possible.
In that vein, new national medication and doping rules are due to come into force on Monday. The federally mandated Office of Horseracing Fairness and Safety, which already regulates racetrack safety and other measures, will oversee drug testing requirements for horses for the first time in a bid to standardize racing nationally.
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https://www.mcall.com/2023/05/20/baffert-back-from-ban-wins-preakness-with-national-treasure-after-another-horse-euthanized/ Baffert Returns From Ban After Another Horse Is Euthanized, Wins Preakness Award At National Treasure – Wake-up Call