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National Treasure won the 2023 Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico, holding off Blazing Sevens following a stretch-long duel, while the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage finished 3rd. Did YOU bet the Bob Baffert trainee to win his 1st stakes race? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
National Treasure led from the start and held off a game Blazing Sevens the length of the stretch to win the 148th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, by a head Saturday at historic Pimlico Race Course.
The 1 3/16-mile Preakness was the centerpiece of a spectacular 14-race program featuring 10 stakes, six graded, worth $2.75 million in purses. The Preakness Day celebration included InfieldFest headlined by popular music and recording artists Bruno Mars and Sofi Tukker.
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Owned by the partnership of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital and Catherine Donovan, National Treasure ($7.80) completed 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.12 over a fast main track to earn his second career win from six starts and first in a stakes.
The gate-to-wire victory by National Treasure came on a day in which his Hall of Fame trainer felt a full range of emotions. Baffert saddled Arabian Lion for a victory in the Sir Barton Stakes to lead off the stakes line-up, but the celebration came to an abrupt halt when heavily favored Havnameltdown sustain a fatal injury two races later in the Chick Lang (G3).
Baffert had been tied with 19th century trainer R. Wyndham Walden for the most Preakness victories before National Treasure joined Triple Crown champions Justify (2018) and American Pharoah (2015) as well as Lookin at Lucky (2010), War Emblem (2002), Point Given (2001), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997) as a Preakness champion.
Meanwhile, it was the first Preakness triumph in 13 tries for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who ran second with Kentucky Derby (G1) winners Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Baffert-trained Authentic in 2020, and Itsmyluckday in 2013.
In all Velazquez won four races on the Preakness program, including stakes victories in the $100,000 Sir Barton with Arabian Lion, also trained by Baffert, and $100,000 Maryland Sprint (G3) aboard Straight No Chaser.
Breaking from the rail against six rivals, the smallest Preakness field since Snow Chief topped a field of seven in 1986, National Treasure made the lead easily on his own and settled into a rhythm while going a quarter of a mile in 23.95 seconds and a half in 48.92 while racing slightly off the rail ahead of Maryland-bred multiple stakes winner Coffeewithchris.
National Treasure went six furlongs in 1:13.49 when he was eased out by Velazquez and met by a challenge from Blazing Sevens, winner of the 2022 Champagne (G1) that was following a similar blueprint for trainer Chad Brown of skipping the Derby to point for the Preakness, a strategy that proved successful with Cloud Computing in 2017 and Early Voting last year.
Blazing Sevens and National Treasure hooked up at the top of the stretch and battled side-by-side down the lane, brushing near the sixteenth pole and again approaching the wire, before Velazquez coaxed one more jump out of National Treasure. It was 2 ¼ lengths back to Kentucky Derby winner Mage in third.
Red Route One, Chase the Chaos, Perform and Coffeewithchris completed the order of finish. First Mission was scratched.
National Treasure fetched $500,000 as a yearling at Saratoga in August 2021 and graduated at first asking last September in a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight sprint at Del Mar. The bay Quality Road colt ran second to stablemate Cave Rock in the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita and third behind 2022 juvenile champion Forte in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to end his 2-year-old season.
This year, National Treasure finished third by a length in the one-mile Sham (G3) Jan. 8 and then ran fourth for former Baffert assistant Tim Yakteen in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (G1) before being returned to Baffert for the lead-up to the Preakness.
National Treasure is the 12th horse since 1909 to win the Preakness from Post 1, including American Pharoah, and the first since War of Will in 2019.
The 2023 Triple Crown series concludes in the June 10 Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. Baffert was non-committal following the Preakness on whether he would bring National Treasure back in the 1 ½-mile ‘Test of the Champion.’
Winning Trainer Bob Baffert (National Treasure): “This day was like a rollercoaster. Started out great. Then things went bad. When we lose a horse, it’s tough on everybody. We grieve. But then for this horse to come back, to pull us out of that dark area that we were in…that’s why I love those horses. They try so hard. It looked like he wouldn’t let that horse pass him. He fought. He dug in. And Johnny (Velazquez) said he didn’t want to pull up.
“This game, there’s a lot of twists and turns, and you’ve just got to get through it. This is how we’re rewarded. The fans got a great race. Unfortunately, they would have liked to see the Derby winner win, because it helps going for the Triple Crown. I’ve been there. I’ve been there for the disappointments.
“It was a great finish for me. Very emotional. I really couldn’t get into the race…when he hit the wire, that’s when I started enjoying the race. The rest of my day, you just couldn’t enjoy the day. Once he hit the wire, it just brought us back. You have to earn these races. For Johnny to get his first…I was thinking more about Johnny.
“It just means (8th Preakness), I feel like Nick Saban.. I like those five-star recruits. That’s my whole secret.”
“I loved them (the early fractions). If we could make the easy lead and just cruise around there….We knew he would love the distance. Once I saw the half-mile fraction, there was no excuses. That horse came to him….I thought he was going to go by us. But our horse dug in. It was a great race.
“I was cheering, like, ‘Please make this happen for Johnny.'”
Winning Jockey John Velazquez (National Treasure): “What a moment. All I can say, when you ride your best and you try to ride your best and the horse responds to everything you want to do, that’s all it takes, the horse giving you everything they can, and that’s what you hope for, and he did.
“Everything I asked him to do, got a good break, pumped it outside a little bit, just like the other ones, think what I’m going to do, and got to the turn and went to the inside, saved some ground and got to the backstretch. Saved some ground on the second turn, and when Irad started moving in the 3/8 pole, I stayed in there. But came to the quarter pole and made sure I put a little pressure on him.
“And he fought the whole way. From the 3/16 pole home, he put in a really good fight. He did not want to let that horse pass. And that’s what champions do. He got it done for me.”.
Trainer Chad Brown (Blazing Sevens, 2nd): “I did not want to be in the middle of the racetrack the whole way, but I don’t think Irad (Ortiz Jr.) had much choice. The horse just got a very, very wide trip and he came up just short. I think the amount of ground lost probably cost him. I was a little worried because he was so wide the whole way. I thought maybe it might take the starch out of him a little bit, and it did. He had the outside post and I think Irad made the best decisions that he could. I don’t see what he could have done differently.
“The winner showed a lot of heart to battle back so you have to give him credit. The pace was slow. I knew the race was void of speed, but I thought he would have a little bit more pressure. He was coming into the race as good as possible, and I am very proud of his effort. The horse really showed up today. We have won this race a couple of times and we have had really good trips. Today we did not have quite the trip we wanted. It goes both ways. That’s horse racing.”
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. (Blazing Sevens, 2nd): “He ran great. He tried so hard. He fought all the way to the wire. The key was John slowed the pace down the backside. Just could not get by him at the end.”
Gustavo Delgado Jr, assistant to trainer Gustavo Delgado (Mage, 3rd): “The pace was hard to … Don’t take anything from the winner. They beat us. That’s it. He ran a good race to be third. If you take him farther back (off a slow pace), the closer, maybe he doesn’t respond. No speed in the race…. The horses in front were going easy. Those horses, you don’t beat them (with that pace). They always fight. They fight when they go fast; imagine when they go so slow. They rebreak.
“We took the shot; it was worth the shot, and we got beat.”
“He’s lightly raced; we’ll see how he comes back. We’ll regroup, take our time and see what’s next to him. Nobody is going to take the Derby from him.”
Jockey Javier Castellano (Mage, 3rd): “The pace. There was not much speed in the race. The way it developed, the way it unfolded, it was a disadvantage for the horses coming from behind. I liked my trip, I had a beautiful trip. I liked where I was. I didn’t want to be too far back because I knew there would not be a lot of speed in the race. Unfortunately, they went slow, and I could not catch those horses. He broke so well out of the gate; this was the best break he has had in a long, long time. He put himself in good position and followed every step along the way. I don’t think there was any excuse. We had a beautiful dream trip. We stalked behind those two horses, saved all the ground on the first turn, and when I asked him from the quarter pole, I could not catch those horses. And my horse responded very well. Those other two horses opened up and the race was over. Absolutely, I expected to win today. I was not disappointed in my horse. Mage is a really good horse.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen (Red Route One, 4th): “No pace first time by. Joel did all he could. He obviously recognized they were crawling and put him in the race as best he could. But he just was steady to the wire. He looks like he’s cooling out well and will most likely go on to the Belmont from here. It appears he stays all day.”
(Thoughts about the winner) “They went by the first time; they were so within themselves it wasn’t ideal for us.”
Jockey Joel Rosario (Red Route One, 4th): ‘John Velazquez did a great job slowing down the pace. My horse ran good. He came running at the end, but it was just too slow a pace for us to catch the frontrunners.”
Trainer Ed Moger Jr. (Chase the Chaos, 5th): “He tried really hard. I thought they were going pretty slow up front. We were last, so it didn’t set up very good for him. The rider (Sheldon Russell) liked him and said he tried all the way around there. There was no pace to run at.”
Jockey Sheldon Russell (Chase the Chaos, 5th): “He gave me a great ride. Obviously, there was no pace in the race. He relaxed nicely after the first turn. I was traveling well at the half-mile pole. All he needed was some pace. Once they kicked away it was over.”
Trainer Shug McGaughey (Perform, 6th): “I’m disappointed in the way he ran. The pace wasn’t that good. He was in a good position down the backside, he just wasn’t able to finish.”
Jockey Feargal Lynch (Perform, 6th): “We had a good trip. We went slowly, and then it turned into a sprint. We followed Mage, which is exactly what I wanted to do. John V is an MVP for a reason.”
Trainer John Salzman Jr. (Coffeewithchris, 7th): “The track seemed a little deeper to me than I was expecting. Jaime said he was fine. He was going down the backstretch and he was right where he wanted him to be. At the three-eighths pole he just sort of folded up on him. He didn’t give him his kick. It looks like he came back good. I have no excuse. We’ll just have to lighten the load and find a better spot for him.”
Jockey Jaime Rodriguez (Coffeewithchris, 7th): “He broke good. We wanted to stalk the leader. On the backside we moved outside to keep my position. Once we got to the three-eighths pole, we couldn’t keep up. John Velazquez stole the race down the backside when he slowed down the pace.”
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