Baffert Ponders National Treasure’s Immediate Future

May 21st, 2023

‘Bright-Eyed’ Mage Will Target G1 Travers

Wait and See for Preakness Runner-up Blazing Sevens

Asmussen Likes Mile and a Half for Red Route One

BALTIMORE, MD – In his Sunday morning comments after winning his record eighth Preakness Stakes (G1), Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was more somber than celebratory. A few times, Baffert made a point of saying that the catastrophic injury sustained by Havnameltdown earlier in the program changed everything for him on a historic afternoon at Pimlico Race Course.

“To me, the memory of this race would be that I lost Havnameltdown,” he said. “It was nice to win the race, but to me it was a pretty sad day.”

After a two-year absence from the Triple Crown series, Baffert, 70, returned to the Preakness with National Treasure, a well-regarded colt who had won just one of his five starts. With blinkers on the first time this season, National Treasure broke sharply. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez promptly put him on the lead and from there was able to dictate a slow pace. When Blazing Sevens, trained by two-time Preakness winner Chad Brown, put in a determined challenge in the stretch, National Treasure responded and won by a head.

The win enabled Baffert to move ahead of 19th century trainer R. Wyndham Walden for the most victories in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. It was Baffert’s record-extending 17th win in the Triple Crown series.

Baffert said that National Treasure and Sir Barton Stakes winner Arabian Lion would stay at Pimlico for a few more days this week and may go on to New York for races on the Belmont Stakes program on June 10. Though he did not rule out Arabian Lion, he said National Treasure was a more likely candidate for the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes. Baffert said he did not want to send the colts back to his base at California and then ship back to New York.
The Preakness was National Treasure’s third race of 2023 and Baffert said it was not demanding.

“They went so slow early, he had so much horse that he couldn’t pull him up at the end he told me,” Baffert said. “Arabian Lion, I’m not sure if he’s up for the mile and a half, but he did run a big race yesterday. It could change. I have until tomorrow to make these calls. I could change my mind and send them back home on Tuesday. So long as they are eating well, which they are, and they came out of it well, I think I’ll be keeping them here relaxed for a little bit and I don’t have to ship them.”

Baffert said that National Treasure has recovered from a quarter crack that might have impacted his training before the Santa Anita Derby. He said the slow-developing colt looks to have matured since that race.

“His last two works were pretty amazing. Really amazing,” he said. “You could tell that the lights were going on. Johnny could tell the difference in him immediately. He could tell that he was figuring it out. Because he’s lightly raced, he kept waiting for horses to come at him. He did that the right way because he had always been green and intimidated.”

National Treasure wore blinkers in two of his three starts as a 2-year-old and Baffert decided to put them back on for the Preakness.

“Every trip he’s had, he’s always been stopping and going,” Baffert said. “¬¬¬¬¬¬With the blinkers he just blew out of the gate and put himself in the race right away. He hadn’t broke that way since he broke his maiden. I think the blinkers really helped him and he came out running.”

In the stretch, National Treasure showed the grit that had been missing in previous races.

“When that horse came to him, he gutted it out,” Baffert said.

Havnameltdown was euthanized after suffering the leg injury in the Chick Lang Stakes (G3). The colt had been a strong performer for Baffert and the Pimlico race was being used as a steppingstone to a Grade 1 race on the Belmont Stakes program. Baffert was subdued when he met with the media Sunday morning. Despite the record-breaking win on the big stage of the Preakness he said it did not feel anything like the first seven victories.

“I’m still upset about losing that horse yesterday,” he said. “My memory of this race is going to be about him. It just took all the fun out of it.”

‘Bright-Eyed’ Mage Will Target G1 Travers

Next up for Preakness (G1) third-place finisher Mage is some time off. The colt, owned by OGMA Investments LLC, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing LLC and CMNWLTH, will soon head to The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, Ky.

“He was there from May of last year to October,” Restrepo said after checking on Mage at the Pimlico Stakes Barn Sunday morning. “We will get him turned out and do some training. Everything is great. The colt is fantastic, bright-eyed and his head is up. We could not be any happier with him after trying as hard as did in the Preakness. The kid is an iron horse.”

Restrepo was not sure when Mage would ship to Lexington. That decision will come after he huddles with trainer Gustavo Delgado and his son and assistant, Gustavo Delgado Jr.

The next goal for Mage, who won the Kentucky Derby (G1) in his fourth career start, will be the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 26.

“We will give him a little vacation and he will power up and we will figure out the best way to get to the Travers,” Restrepo said. “He has not missed a day and has been on the engine since January.”

Mage, who was ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, fell victim to a slow pace in the Preakness, which was crafted by another Hall of Famer, John Velazquez, aboard winner National Treasure.

The third-place finish ended Mage’s bid to become the sport’s 14th Triple Crown winner.

“I am old enough to remember Unbridled,” Restrepo said. “And I am old enough to remember Ferdinand and Alysheba and Street Sense. They were all amazing Derby winners who ran nice races in the Preakness but didn’t win. They went on to have great careers after that. Are you kidding me? We won the Derby, and we were third in the Preakness. If you would have told me that was possible a year ago, I would have given you my right hand.”

Wait and See for Preakness Runner-up Blazing Sevens

The first Preakness Stakes (G1) for John and Carla Capek brought plenty of excitement, but not the outcome they were hoping for.

The Capeks’ Rodeo Creek Racing LLC’s Blazing Sevens finished a head behind National Treasure in the 148th running of the second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course Saturday.

“We thought he ran exceptionally well,” John Capek said “It’s tough to be a little bit short on the winning side of things, but we are pleased with his progress.”

Trainer Chad Brown was attempting to win his third Preakness in the last seven years. He skipped the Kentucky Derby (G1) with Blazing Sevens, even though he had enough qualifying points for the race. He had used the same formula with Preakness winners Cloud Computing in 2017 and Early Voting last year.

“It was better for us to come to the Preakness and have a shot of winning than be in the middle of the pack in the Derby,” John Capek said “The horse is making progress. Every race this year has been a better race than the previous one.”

Blazing Sevens shipped back to New York early Sunday morning. Brown has not said what the colt’s next race will be.

“We will talk to Chad and see what is best for the horse for his next race,” John Capek said.

Asmussen Likes Mile and a Half for Red Route One
Trainer Steve Asmussen saw enough in Red Route One’s Preakness (G1) fourth-place finish that after the race he said the Belmont Stakes (G1) is the obvious target. Jockey Joel Rosario was forced to have Red Route One closer to the lead than is his want, given how John Velazquez was able to back down the pace to a crawl up the backstretch
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“This race fell apart for a lot of reasons that nobody will be able to put their finger on,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “I don’t expect that to be the way things are going forward. We just regroup and get better at it.

“You’re not guaranteed to get pace in the Belmont. You win races because of pace, and you benefit from it periodically. And then other times you don’t. This would have been the latter for him,” he added. “He is nearing $700,000 in earnings. He’s kept very good company his whole career and was probably beaten [4 ¾] lengths in the Preakness in a race I don’t think set up ideally for him. Does he beat them under different circumstances? Who knows? But I do like the opportunity to run him a mile and a half.”

Actually, Red Route One has earned $732,525 off of a 2-2-1 record in 10 starts. He earned a free roll in the Preakness by virtue of winning Oaklawn Park’s Bath House Row Stakes.

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