Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (2024)

Pinned

Joe Drape

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

A Baffert horse wins on the same day that another is fatally injured.

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Bob Baffert, the most accomplished and controversial horse trainer in America, returned to the Triple Crown trail on Saturday and watched his colt National Treasure win the 148th running of the Preakness Stakes. The victory came after Baffert’s two-year ban from the sport’s premier stage because of a doping violation, and hours after another one of his horses died competing in an undercard race at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

It was the kind of afternoon that makes many Americans wonder how long America’s oldest sport can continue to have its social license renewed.

Earlier in the afternoon, another of Baffert’s 3-year-old colts, Havnameltdown, buckled around the far turn in the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes, tumbled to the ground and unseated his rider Luis Saez.

In a grim scene that recalled the seven horses that died in the days leading to the Kentucky Derby, veterinarians swarmed to the distressed colt, erected a screen so the crowd on hand and television watchers could not look on, and euthanized him by injection.

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About five hours later, a jubilant Baffert was fighting back tears as he talked about National Treasure, who edged out Blazing Sevens by a head. The Kentucky Derby winner Mage, compromised by a slow pace, finished third.

The victory was Baffert’s eighth in the second leg of the Triple Crown, breaking a record by R. Wyndham Walden, a trainer of the late 19th century. It was the first Preakness win for the Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, a glaring hole in a résumé filled with marquee wins.

“This business is twists and turns, ups and downs,” Baffert said after National Treasure won. “Losing that horse today really hurt. I’m very happy for Johnny that he got the win. It’s been a very emotional day.”

National Treasure covered the mile and three-sixteenths in 1 minute 55.12 seconds and rewarded his backers with $7.80 on a $2 bet to win in the $1.65 million race.

“Gosh, it’s been awhile,” Velazquez said of his long-sought victory. “With all the blessings that I’ve had and all the success I’ve had in other races, not having won this one was definitely missing.”

Baffert, 70, trained Medina Spirit, who won the 2021 Kentucky Derby but failed a test for a prohibited drug, becoming only the second horse in the Derby’s history to have his victory revoked because of a drug violation. The colt died suddenly the following December, possibly from a heart attack. A necropsy conducted by California state veterinarians was inconclusive.

Baffert, a two-time Triple Crown winner, has since served a suspension handed down by Kentucky regulators and a two-year ban from the Derby and its host, Churchill Downs. Last year, Baffert was serving his Kentucky suspension during the Triple Crown, so the racing commissions in Maryland and New York kept him from the Preakness and the Belmont.

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His triumphant return to Pimlico was marred by the death of Havnameltdown. The horse was euthanized by veterinarians on the racetrack after being examined by a team led by Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer for the company that owns Pimlico.

“During the subsequent evaluation, she observed a non-operable left fore fetlock injury,” the company, the Stronach Group, said in a statement, referring to a joint in the horse’s foreleg. “Due to the severity and prognosis of the injury, Dr. Benson and her counterparts made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Havnameltdown.”

Saez, Havnameltdown’s rider, was transported to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore after complaining of leg pain. He was in stable condition and conscious, according to the company.

Velazquez, the Hall of Famer who rode National Treasure, said he was rocked by the death on the racetrack.

“Truthfully, it felt like a knife to my heart when I saw it,” Velazquez said of the injuries to the horse and his counterpart, Saez. “It’s devastating when you see it. It’s hard to stay focused and keep going.”

After the deaths at Churchill Downs ahead of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness officials took a cautious approach to pre-race examinations. First Mission, the 5-2 second choice in the morning line, was scratched from the race early Friday morning with an unspecified left hind-ankle injury.

The extra scrutiny was extended to every horse competing over the weekend. Officials required two veterinary authorizations before a horse was allowed to run — one from the trainer’s private vet, the other from the regulatory vet in the state where the horse was stabled before coming to Baltimore.

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Stronach Group officials declined to comment about how Havnameltdown was cleared to run in the race despite the extra evaluation.

Baffert, too, had no explanation.

“It’s the worst feeling,” Baffert said Saturday. “And we grieve. We do grieve when these things happen. There’s nothing worse than coming back and the stall is empty.”

Animal rights activists blamed the sport’s owners and trainers for a lackadaisical effort to protect horses.

They pointed to the opposition of horsem*n’s groups to the newly minted Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, created by Congress under the supervision of the Federal Trade Commission, which will become the ruling body of the sport on Monday.

Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said that the drug violations and fatalities among horses in Baffert’s care demanded greater scrutiny.

“Pimlico should have followed Churchill Downs’ example and barred Bob Baffert from the track,” she said.

Melissa Hoppert contributed reporting.

Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (2)

May 20, 2023, 9:12 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 9:12 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

On to the Belmont, without a Triple Crown in play. But Fox Sports will take over coverage, and the legendary Tom Durkin will come out of retirement to call the race.

Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (3)

May 20, 2023, 8:09 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 8:09 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Bruno Mars just took the stage in the infield. He kicked off the show with “24K Magic.” Then it started raining.

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (4)

May 20, 2023, 7:14 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 7:14 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Bob Baffert has now set the record for the most Preakness wins with eight. “We’ve just been totally wiped out after that horse got hurt,” he said, while fighting tears, about his horse that broke down in the sixth race. “The emotions of this game, it’s so much.”

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (5)

May 20, 2023, 7:08 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 7:08 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Blazing Sevens finished second, and the Derby winner Mage finished third.

May 20, 2023, 7:08 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 7:08 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

National Treasure wins the 148th Preakness Stakes.

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On a day marred by a death in Bob Baffert’s barn, his colt, National Treasure, edged out Blazing Sevens by a head to win the 148th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday and give his trainer a record eighth victory in the race.

Baffert, no stranger to controversy, was returning to the Preakness after serving a suspension in connection with a failed drug test by his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, who died later that year. Earlier on Saturday, a horse trained by Baffert sustained a fatal injury in an undercard race as deaths continued to haunt the road to the Triple Crown.

After the race, Baffert fought back tears. “We’ve just been totally wiped out after that horse got hurt,” he said about Havnameltdown, who broke down in the sixth race at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. “The emotions of this game, it’s so much.”

He added later, after more time to reflect on his return: “We’ve been through a tough go, but we knew we’d get through this. It’s the love of the horse that keeps me focused and able to keep the noise out. But it’s days like this, it’s not really vindication, but I feel like we can have a moment that we can enjoy it.”

Compromised by a slow pace, the Derby winner Mage finished third, cutting short the one feel-good story in a grim period for racing.

NATIONAL TREASURE WINS THE PREAKNESS STAKES! #Preakness148 pic.twitter.com/N5jV4GnQMQ

— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) May 20, 2023

National Treasure went gate to wire, defeating six other contenders in what was seen as a weak field, especially after First Mission, at 5-2 in the morning line, was scratched. Mage went off as a 7-5 favorite, and National Treasure, at 5-2, was the primary alternative. He covered the mile and three-sixteenths in 1 minute 55.12 seconds and rewarded his backers with $7.80 on a $2 bet to win.

It was the first Preakness victory for the Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, a glaring hole in a résumé filled with marquee wins.

“Gosh, it’s been awhile,” Velazquez said. “With all the blessings that I’ve had and all the success I’ve had in other races, not having won this one was definitely missing.”

Before the excitement of the race, there was an air of drama and solemnity surrounding the racetrack. Havnameltdown’s death added to the recent toll of horse fatalities surrounding the Triple Crown races, after seven horses died at Churchill Downs in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby earlier this month.

Havnameltdown buckled around the far turn in the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes, sending his jockey Luis Saez tumbling to the ground. Saez was taken off the track in an ambulance. The colt was euthanized by veterinarians on the racetrack after being examined by a team led by Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer for the company that owns Pimlico.

“During the subsequent evaluation, she observed a non-operable left fore fetlock injury,” the company, the Stronach Group, said in a statement, referring to a joint in the horse’s foreleg. “Due to the severity and prognosis of the injury, Dr. Benson and her counterparts made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Havnameltdown.”

Saez was transported to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore for further evaluation after complaining of leg pain. He was in stable condition and conscious, according to the company.

“Truthfully, it felt like a knife to my heart when I saw it,” Velazquez said of the injuries to the horse and his counterpart, Saez. “It’s devastating when you see it. It’s hard to stay focused and keep going.”

Amid the deaths and the scratches of the past few weeks, the accomplishments of the Derby winner, Mage, were overshadowed. But there was a lot to like about the fast-developing colt and his Venezuelan and small-time owner connections.

He was only the third horse to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old and the fourth to win it with only three previous starts. Another horse that did both? Justify, the most recent Triple Crown winner, in 2018.

Mage’s only two previous losses had come against Forte, the morning-line favorite for the Derby who was scratched the day of the race. Mage was the lone Derby contender in the Preakness.

Still, there was drama when Mage had a mishap in his stall on Thursday and required stitches, one of his owners, Ramiro Restrepo, said Saturday. His trainer, Gustavo Delgado Sr., said after the race that the slow pace was what did his horse in.

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National Treasure, trained by Bob Baffert, holds on to win the Preakness!

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (8)

May 20, 2023, 7:06 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 7:06 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

National Treasure has a slim lead.

Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (9)

May 20, 2023, 7:06 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 7:06 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Mage closer to the pace, sitting in fourth.

Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (10)

May 20, 2023, 7:05 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 7:05 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

And they’re off!

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (11)

May 20, 2023, 7:04 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 7:04 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

The horses are entering the gate. Mage is as calm as he has been all week.

Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (12)

May 20, 2023, 6:57 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:57 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Mage is partly owned by Commonwealth, an app where investors can buy shares in racehorses for as little as $50. They crashed the winner’s circle in Kentucky. (Photo provide by owner.) Can’t wait to see what happens here if Mage wins again.

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (13)

May 20, 2023, 6:51 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:51 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Odell Beckham Jr., a Super Bowl winning wide receiver now with the Ravens, gives the riders’ up call. And then there's the call to the post.

May 20, 2023, 6:45 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:45 p.m. ET

Joe Drape

Bob Baffert returns to the Triple Crown trail, shadowed by controversy.

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The Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is returning to the Triple Crown stage on Saturday, having been barred from last year’s Preakness Stakes after his colt Medina Spirit failed a drug test after winning the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Already, Baffert’s day has been tinged by controversy: Another horse he trained, Havnameltdown, sustained a fatal injury in an undercard race on Saturday and was euthanized on the racetrack.

After failing the drug test, Medina Spirit was allowed to run in the 2021 Preakness but finished a well-beaten third. He died that December, possibly from a heart attack, according to veterinarians.

Baffert has since served a suspension handed down by Kentucky regulators and a two-year ban from the Derby and Churchill Downs. Last year, Baffert was serving his Kentucky suspension during the Triple Crown, so the racing commissions in Maryland and New York kept him from the Preakness and the Belmont.

Now he returns with National Treasure, the fourth-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby, to seek a record-breaking eighth victory in the Preakness. He is currently tied with the 19th-century trainer R. Wyndham Walden.

Baffert’s first three Derby-Preakness winners — Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) — were unable to complete the Triple Crown sweep at Belmont Park. But the last two, American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018, got the job done.

The Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be aboard National Treasure, who was 3-1 in the morning line. The colt has won only once but was competitive in the premier races in California and Kentucky. He was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Forte, who was the favorite in this year’s Kentucky Derby before being declared unfit to run by state veterinarians the morning of the race.

“I think he fits here,” Baffert told reporters this week. “He will have to step it up. He is a horse that has not filled into his frame yet, but we have always been high on him. He hasn’t really run a bad race.”

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (15)

May 20, 2023, 6:43 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:43 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

The lucky connections will then head to the special winner’s circle that is reserved for the Preakness. The original Woodlawn Vase, one of the richest trophies in sports, is there, too, though heavily guarded.

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (16)

May 20, 2023, 6:39 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:39 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

The horses are being saddled, and soon one horse will cross this finish line first.

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (17)

May 20, 2023, 6:38 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:38 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Who won last year’s Preakness? Early Voting, trained by Chad Brown. Who does Brown have in this year’s race? Blazing Sevens.

May 20, 2023, 6:30 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:30 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Secretariat’s 1973 Preakness is still a masterpiece, even if it took 39 years to recognize his record.

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On his way to securing the ninth Triple Crown sweep in history, Secretariat first had to win the Preakness Stakes. And he did so in record fashion — or so many people thought. It took 39 years to set the record straight.

As in most of his races, Secretariat broke last, but then the jockey Ron Turcotte made a split-second decision to make a spectacular move on the first turn, instead of waiting for the colt to settle into a rhythm before he asked him for more.

After taking the lead with five and a half furlongs to go, Secretariat was never challenged, and he won by two and a half lengths, with his rival Sham again finishing second, as he had in the Derby.

Secretariat’s final time was recorded as 1 minute 55 seconds, a second slower than the Preakness mark set two years earlier by Canonero II. But clockers at the track that day, including one who worked for the Maryland Jockey Club, recorded faster times. By Monday, the stewards voted to change the official time to their clocker’s mark of 1:54 ⅖, still short of the record.

But the dispute was only beginning. CBS aired a 30-minute broadcast about the controversy, showing Secretariat and Canonero’s races side by side. The network asserted that Secretariat had broken the record; and his owner, Penny Chenery, thought so, too. A hearing was held, but Chenery’s request to change the time was denied.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the Maryland Racing Commission agreed to revisit the controversy. Chenery hired companies to conduct a forensic review of the videotapes of the race using technology that didn’t exist in 1973. And after over two hours of testimony, the commission unanimously voted to change the official time of Secretariat’s win to 1:53, establishing the record — at last.

Chenery’s persistence was not lost on one fan, who happens to be a co-owner of Mage through the Commonwealth app. Norma Barnes-Euresti said she became hooked on horse racing after watching Secretariat’s run to the Triple Crown, which ended a 25-year drought.

Before the Derby two weeks ago, she went to the Kentucky Derby Museum to see the new Secretariat exhibit.

“There’s this lovely picture there in the hall with Penny Chenery and Secretariat; I had my picture taken in front of that,” she said. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know if you can hear me, but I want to say thank you because she gave a little girl a dream. And you made me believe that I could actually get here not having any of the connections or horses that people usually have to lead them to that place.’”

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (19)

May 20, 2023, 6:16 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:16 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

The infield is half the size it normally is and the crowd appears to be following suit. The days of porta-potty races may be gone, but Bruno Mars is making a return appearance to the infield, albeit this time performing in the first ever post-Preakness concert.

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May 20, 2023, 6:15 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:15 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Who’s in charge of horse safety? A new agency is tasked with setting uniform rules.

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After Barbaro sustained a catastrophic injury in the 2006 Preakness Stakes and the filly Eight Belles broke down after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, there were calls for a national governing body in horse racing instead of each state playing by its own rules.

Now after seven horses died at Churchill Downs ahead of the Derby just a few weeks ago, and another died after taking a bad step in the sixth race on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course, many in the industry are welcoming the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority with open arms; some are not.

HISA, established when the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was signed into federal law in 2020, is now responsible for drafting and enforcing uniform safety and integrity rules in thoroughbred racing in the United States.

At its helm is Lisa Lazarus, a lawyer who was employed by the National Football League for nearly 10 years, working on collective bargaining issues and international deals and partnerships.

She became the general counsel for Fédération Equestre Internationale, the international governing body of equestrian sports, shortly after several horses failed drug tests at the 2008 Olympics. Her priority was to come up with a new set of doping rules and punishments.

HISA is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission and is made up of two parts: the racetrack safety program, which focuses on racing surfaces and minimizing equine and jockey injuries, and the antidoping and medication control program, which establishes a centralized testing process and applies uniform penalties for violations. The safety program took effect on July 1, and the antidoping and medication program is set to resume on May 22 after a 30-day dayinjunction by a judge in Texas halted its debut.

Perhaps most important, HISA says it will deliver transparency. It will use six approved drug-testing laboratories that have a guaranteed 10-day turnaround time. No drugs will be allowed 42 hours before a race, and if there is a doping violation, the public will learn about it around the same time as the trainer. For controlled medication violations, a trainer has a right to have the B sample tested, and the public is expected to know the outcome in about three to four weeks. (So there should be no more eight-month waits, which was the case when the public learned after this year’s Derby that Forte, the favorite who was scratched, had tested positive in September.)

As for the deaths at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is conducting investigations into each death that will include necropsies, interviews with the horses’ connections and security personnel and a review of the horses’ racing, training, veterinary and pre-race exam inspection records as well as video surveillance.

“The safety of every horse and every rider is the No. 1 priority of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission,” Kristin Voskuhl, a spokeswoman for the commission, said. “The goal of these investigations is to determine, to the extent possible, underlying circ*mstances that could have contributed to these recent and tragic events.”

When the investigations are completed, a report will be given to HISA, which announced after the Derby that it would conduct its own investigation.

HISA said its findings, including the determination of whether any rule violations occurred, would be made public.

“As we move forward from this collective low, I hope it is together, united with a renewed commitment to what matters most: the safety of our horses and our riders,” Lazarus wrote in an open letter to the industry last week. “We owe it to them to get this right. And we owe it to them to do it now.”

Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (21)

May 20, 2023, 6:05 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:05 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

The ladies working the booth at Marjae Hats, a local millinery business, were displaying their wears for customers.

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May 20, 2023, 6:02 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 6:02 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Preakness Stakes latest odds: Here are the favorites in the field.

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Here are the odds for the 2023 Preakness Stakes, as of 6 p.m. Eastern time, listed in order of post position in the seven-horse field. Check live odds here. Our picks are here.

With only seven horses in the race after Mage’s biggest competitor, First Mission, was scratched, the bettors are lukewarm on Mage but are struggling with whom else to support. At 5-2, National Treasure is the primary alternative. Oddly enough, Chase the Chaos, who was 50-1 on the original morning line, is now 7-1.

If you’re not at a racetrack, bets can be placed through online wagering sites. The morning-line odds were set by Keith Feustle of Pimlico Race Course and were revised after First Mission was scratched on Friday morning.

1. National Treasure (5-2; morning line 3-1)

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2. Chase the Chaos (7-1; morning line 30-1)

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3. Mage (2-1; morning line 4-5)

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4. Coffeewithchris (8-1; morning line 20-1)

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5. Red Route One (7-1; morning line 8-1)

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6. Perform (7-1; morning line 12-1)

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7. Blazing Sevens (4-1; morning line 5-1)

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First Mission, whose morning line odds were 5-2 and who was considered Mage’s strongest challenger, was scratched on Friday morning with a left hind ankle injury.

May 20, 2023, 5:30 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 5:30 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Thanks to an app, 382 investors in Mage await another shot at the winner’s circle.

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They came from the owners’ suites, the second floor of the grandstand, the rail. From California and Michigan and beyond. They were not going to miss this moment. Their horse had just won the Kentucky Derby, and the winner’s circle beckoned.

Among those wearing white Mage hats were Brian Doxtator and Chase Chamberlin, whose Commonwealth app allows fans to buy shares in racehorses like Mage for as little as $50. Soon shares in up-and-coming golfers will be offered. It takes about 60 seconds to invest in an athlete the first time, and about 30 seconds thereafter. Think part fantasy football, part investing, part pure fun.

“Yes, we’re a technology platform and we sell shares and you could potentially make money, but really what we’re doing is we’re building a community of really passionate sports fans,” Doxtator said. “We call them the Big Day Out crowd — people that if they’re going to go do something they call five of their friends.”

Commonwealth and its users own 25 percent of Mage; the trainer Gustavo Delgado Sr., the bloodstock agent Ramiro Restrepo and the real estate investor Sam Herzberg own the rest. For the $3 million Derby, a $50 share produced $95 after taxes. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, especially when a $50 bet to win on the 15-1 Mage would have produced $810.50, investors have been earning on every race he has run and will receive a percentage of what is likely to be a multimillion-dollar breeding deal. They also have behind-the-scenes access to the horse and his training regimen and the opportunity to attend workouts and races.

Doxtator and Chamberlin grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., and attended Western Michigan University. Doxtator, who now lives in Los Angeles, went to a car auction and noticed a company selling shares in cars. He was intrigued by the idea and started thinking about ways to improve upon that concept. Then he went to Santa Anita racetrack. Days later, he messaged his old friend Chamberlin, a lifelong equestrian who had moved to Lexington, Ky., and started to dabble in horse racing, and pitched the idea.

“We thought of the horse racing audience as like a bull’s-eye kind of target,” Doxtator, 40, said. “You’ve got the core audience in the middle. Then you’re one ring out and it’s the casual fan that might go to the races a bit, pays attention, and then you go another ring out, and you’ve got people that pretty much only watch the Derby and have never really been to the track. You put those two outer rings together, and if you can convert even 5 to 10 percent of those, it’s a game changer for horse racing.”

Doxtator and Chamberlin launched the app in early 2021, and by the summer they had partnered with WinStar Farm and were offering shares in Country Grammer, who went on to win the $12 million Dubai World Cup in 2022. They have also partnered with top bloodstock agents, which is how they connected with Restrepo and landed a share of Mage.

About 80 of the 382 people who invested in Mage through Commonwealth were at the Derby. And so that melting pot of a group rode Mage straight into the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May, leading to perhaps the biggest winner’s circle party in Derby history — even Mage looked small in the middle of it.

“It’s one of those weird things you don’t want to talk about too much, because you don’t want to jinx yourself or whatever, but we told people, if we win, just go,” Chamberlin, 32, said. “You have your Commonwealth pin on. Nobody’s going to stop you.”

One of the Commonwealth investors was Norma Barnes-Euresti from Battle Creek, Mich. When her wheelchair got stuck on the track, Gerardo Corrales and Jose Ortiz, who had just rode in the Derby, carried her the rest of the way.

“I don’t have legs today, but I got the ride of a lifetime,” she said on NBC, speaking about the jockeys’ kindness and, of course, her Triple Crown contender Mage.

The winner’s circle experience was the lasting memory of that day for Doxtator and Chamberlin. About 100 investors will be attending the Preakness.

“I’ll never forget standing there and seeing Mage start to work his way over and everyone’s going, ‘Hey, you have to stand here for the photo,’ and out of the corner of my eye, I see like this mass of people all wearing Mage hats,” Doxtator said. “That was a surprise to me. And I’m like, ‘Oh, great, the crew’s getting in here.’ It was such a moment for us. I will cherish that photo forever.”

Said Chamberlin: “Honestly, I look back and I see a $50 shareholder that somehow got his hands on the trophy, and another woman leaving with roses, and it’s like, that’s pretty hallowed ground.”

On Saturday, the oldest investor in Mage — Chamberlin’s 89-year-old grandfather, Gordon Chamberlin — will be in attendance. He watched the Derby with Chamberlin’s father, Mike, another investor, in Michigan, and the two sobbed when Mage won. In that moment, the elder Chamberlins knew they needed to be at the Preakness.

And this time, one thing will be different: The unlikely owners will all be sitting together in the turfside terrace in the infield, and they will have a clear path to the winner’s circle.

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May 20, 2023, 5:15 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 5:15 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Why did Forte’s positive test take so long to come out?

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Three days after a Kentucky Derby in which five horses were scratched, including the morning-line favorite Forte, The New York Times reported that Forte had failed a drug test after winning the Hopeful Stakes on Sept. 5. Two days after that report, Forte was disqualified from the Hopeful and his trainer, Todd Pletcher, was suspended for 10 days and fined $1,000.

In the eight months since Forte’s failed test, he won four races, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November and the Florida Derby last month. Forte was named horse racing’s 2-year-old male champion, a title that greatly increased his value as a potential stallion for his co-owners Mike Repole and Vincent Viola. So what took so long for the failed test to become public?

In New York, where the Hopeful Stakes was held at Saratoga, the stewards identify horses to have both blood and urine samples drawn after a race, as is the protocol in most racing jurisdictions. Once samples are taken, they are shipped to New York’s Equine Drug Testing and Research Laboratory in Ithaca for analysis, which usually takes about three weeks, according to the New York State Gaming Commission.

If the laboratory confirms the presence of a prohibited substance, the laboratory informs the commission, which informs the state steward at the racetrack where the horse’s sample originated. The steward identifies the horse and the trainer, and an investigation — witness interviews, written statements, analysis of evidence, review of records, etc. — begins. (Pletcher’s lawyer, Karen Murphy, was notified of Forte’s positive test on Sept. 29.)

The trainer is afforded the option of having a residual sample of the original, if available, tested at an approved laboratory of the trainer’s choice at the trainer’s expense. A trainer may also participate in a hearing to provide an explanation of his or her view of the circ*mstances. There are no timetables for these steps.

“Establishing a deadline is impractical,” Brad Maione, the director of communications for the state gaming commission, said, citing laboratory delays and the need to accommodate the schedules of all involved.

After the investigation, the trainer may be assessed a penalty by the state steward if a violation occurred. Rulings of violations are published on the commission’s website. Penalties may be challenged through an administrative hearing, which is where the Pletcher-Forte case stands now.

State regulators said they were unable to resolve the doping issue earlier because Pletcher exercised his right to have a residual sample tested, but had trouble finding an approved laboratory to accept the sample, even though a list was provided and is available on the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium website. The split sample arrived at Texas A&M’s laboratory on Dec. 21; the positive result was confirmed on Jan. 28. Afterward, Murphy, Pletcher’s lawyer, repeatedly sought to postpone the hearing about the violation, according to correspondence provided by the commission; Murphy disputes those claims. On May 9, the parties finally met, and the penalty was handed down the next day.

Beyond the stewards’ ruling, the Breeders’ Cup requires participants to disclose any previous drug violations when entering its championships. A spokeswoman said neither Pletcher nor the horse’s owners told organizers about the colt’s testing positive for meloxicam, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to manage pain and swelling, before Forte ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. She said Forte passed all of the pre-race regulatory, veterinary and drug testing requirements to race in Kentucky, where the Breeders’ Cup was held.

May 20, 2023, 5:00 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 5:00 p.m. ET

Joe Drape and Melissa Hoppert

Who will win the Preakness Stakes? Here’s what our experts think.

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Joe Drape’s win-place-show picks:

Mage: Only two weeks rest off a grueling mile and a quarter? Big ask, but there are no world beaters in this bunch. Don’t blame you if you eat the chalk.

Red Route One: Like Mage, this colt gets going late. Look for him to be chasing the Derby winner late.

National Treasure: This colt looks to be the lone speed horse. If John Velazquez, the Hall of Fame jockey, can slow the fractions down, National Treasure is a threat to go gate to wire.

Melissa Hoppert’s picks:

National Treasure: Trainer Bob Baffert will add blinkers to try to get the fourth-place Santa Anita Derby finisher back on track after a promising 2-year-old season. Should he prevail, Baffert will set the record for the most Preakness wins with eight.

Mage: With no other Derby runners in the race, there’s no doubt he’s the best in the field. But his persistent trouble breaking from the gate, coupled with what is expected to be a slow pace, does not bode well for him here.

Blazing Sevens: One of three horses in the race sired by Good Magic, along with Mage and Perform. He finished third in the Blue Grass with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle and has some quality races under his belt.

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (27)

May 20, 2023, 4:31 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 4:31 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Spotted in the winner’s circle: Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr.

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May 20, 2023, 4:30 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 4:30 p.m. ET

Joe Drape

First Mission was scratched as regulators applied extra scrutiny.

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After seven horses died at Churchill Downs ahead of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes officials are taking a cautious approach. First Mission, the 5-2 second choice in the morning line, was scratched from the race early Friday morning with an unspecified left hind-ankle injury.

The colt is trained by Brad Cox and owned by the Godolphin stable, which belongs to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. First Mission was coming off an impressive victory in the Lexington Stakes last month at Keeneland, but his trainer noticed something was off after training on Wednesday, and on Friday, the veterinarian team for 1/ST racing, which owns Pimlico Race Course, scratched the horse.

Michael Banahan, Godolphin U.S.A.’s director of bloodstock, said First Mission would be sent back to Lexington, Ky., for a full exam.

“They thought maybe it was a minor issue with the left hind ankle — you just really couldn’t do proper diagnostics on site, on the track,” Banahan said. “He was doing great at Pimlico. But that’s the way it goes.”

The extra scrutiny is being extended to every horse competing here over the weekend. Officials are requiring two veterinary authorizations before a horse is allowed to run — one from the trainer’s private vet, the other from the regulatory vet in the state where the horse was stabled before coming to Baltimore.

But even amid the added caution, a colt named Havnameltdown sustained a fatal injury in an undercard race on Saturday and was euthanized on the track.

The scratch of First Mission makes this the first time since 1986 that the Preakness will have only seven horses, which makes an already weak field weaker. The second leg of the Triple Crown has not included only one Derby contender since 1948, when Citation ran and won. He then prevailed in the Belmont Stakes and swept the Triple Crown.

Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (29)

May 20, 2023, 4:18 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 4:18 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Got to love the Maryland pride that these outriders’ horses are showing today.

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Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (30)

May 20, 2023, 4:04 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 4:04 p.m. ET

Melissa Hoppert

Reporting from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

In the sixth race, Havnameltdown buckled around the far turn and was euthanized. That is where the stage is set up for the infield concert, and music was blaring when he stumbled. The music has now been halted during races.

May 20, 2023, 4:00 p.m. ET

May 20, 2023, 4:00 p.m. ET

Joe Drape

Requiem for the 7 dead horses of Kentucky Derby week.

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When seven thoroughbreds died at Churchill Downs only a few weeks ago, it was significant news, but little was said about the individual horses. Here are their stories, beginning with a $13,000 colt called Snowball:

1. Freezing Point (nicknamed Snowball)

Her voice catches and tears threaten to follow, but Randy Gootzeit wants you to know about how a strapping gray colt nicknamed Snowball brought a couple of horse lovers back to the track, and how they got their hearts broken.

Snowball, known on the track as Freezing Point, suffered a fatal breakdown from a broken bone in his left front ankle during an undercard race at Churchill Downs on May 6, becoming the seventh horse to die in an agonizing eight days leading up to the Kentucky Derby. The deaths, as yet unexplained, have cast a pall over this year’s Triple Crown and renewed questions about the safety of the animals as the sport prepares for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

But for Gootzeit and her trainer Joe Lejzerowicz, the troubles in horse racing are just a backdrop to their private grief.

“We’d have done anything to save him, but we could not,” Gootzeit said. “We miss him desperately.”

2. Wild on Ice

3-year-old gelding

Injured his left hind leg during training and was euthanized

The jockey for this gritty Texas-bred horse, Ken Tohill, has won more than 4,100 races, but the gelding’s victory in the Sunland Derby in March was his first in a graded stakes race. At 60, Tohill was set to become the oldest rider in Derby history. “A gift,” is how Tohill described Wild on Ice one morning last month. He continued, “He’s well bred enough and his talent is starting to show.”

3. Code of Kings

3-year-old gelding

Flipped in his paddock and broke his neck

This son of Empire Maker was promising enough to debut in Saratoga, but he didn’t live up to his promise, failing to finish higher than fifth in six starts. Code of Kings was being saddled when he became entranced by party lights at a D.J. booth, according to his trainer, and flipped once, twice and, finally, a fatal third time.

Preakness Stakes: National Treasure Wins in Baffert’s Comeback (2024)
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