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Watch: National Treasure gives Baffert bittersweet Preakness win after horse death

National Treasure (right) storms towards the finishing line at the Preakness States. Photo; AFP

National Treasure fought off Blazing Sevens in the final strides to win the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, taking trainer Bob Baffert from grief to glory hours after one of his horses was euthanized.

Baffert claimed his eighth Preakness win, breaking a tie with 19th-century trainer Robert Wyndham Walden for most by a trainer, but that seemed far from his mind as he contemplated the day’s earlier grim events in the 148th running of the middle jewel in US flat racing’s Triple Crown.

Baffert-trained Havnameltdown suffered a catastrophic front left leg injury during the sixth race of the day and had to be euthanized on the track at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Jockey Luis Saez was thrown when the horse stumbled forward and taken to hospital with leg pain, but was released after X-rays were negative.

“We’ve been totally wiped out after that horse got hurt,” Baffert said of his team, that still had to prepare National Treasure for the 1 1/16-mile Preakness.

“There’s so many responsibilities a trainer has: employees, horses, jockey safety,” Baffert said, his voice breaking in a post-race television interview. “And then to win this… losing that horse today really hurt.”

Baffert paid tribute to his staff for making sure National Treasure got his chance.

“This horse deserved it,” he said.

And he was delighted for jockey John Velazquez, who filled a hole in his Hall of Fame resume with a first Preakness win to go with three Kentucky Derby victories and two Belmont Stakes triumphs.

“All the blessings that I have and all the success that I have in other races, not having won this one was definitely (something) missing,” Velazquez said.

Blazing Sevens, trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Irad Ortiz, nearly denied Velazquez again.

Velazquez had his horse in the lead early and heading into the stretch. When Blazing Sevens made his move—even poking a nose in front—National Treasure dug in and won by a head.

Kentucky Derby winner Mage, whose challenge from the middle of the seven-horse field came too late, finished third to end the chance that a 14th Triple Crown champion could be celebrated at the Belmont Stakes next month.

Baffert, who trained the most recent Triple Crown winner, Justify, in 2018, saddled his first Triple Crown race runner since 2021.

 ‘Terrible accident’

He’d been suspended for a medication violation that disqualified Medina Spirit from his 2021 Kentucky Derby victory.

But it was far from a celebratory day after the death of Havnameltdown again put horse safety in racing under scrutiny.

The Kentucky Derby was clouded by a spate of deaths at Churchill Downs that included two on Derby day and would eventually total eight in less than three weeks.

“We are just devastated,” Baffert said in a statement. “This is a shock to everyone at our barn who love and care for these horses every day.

“Havnameltdown was obviously hit pretty hard coming out of the gate. We don’t know if that contributed to the injury, but we will be fully transparent with those reviewing this terrible accident.” 

Kitty Block, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said the death of Havnameltdown in the wake of eight deaths in a matter of weeks at Churchill Downs “underscores the urgent need for sweeping reforms in the horse racing industry.”

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