By: Erin Hughes
Edited By: Kylie Augis
Two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, seven more 3-year-old colts lined up in the starting gate at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, for the second of the Triple Crown races, the 148th Preakness Stakes. Mage, fresh off his Derby win, hoped to continue his bid for the Triple Crown, a feat that has not been seen in horse racing since in 2018. However, before the Preakness could get underway, another tragedy struck the track and the horse racing community.
The Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs had their fair share of controversy and tragedy during the first weekend in May with seven horses passing away in the 10 days leading up to the race, four of which had to be euthanized due to injury. Many thought and hoped that this problem would be isolated to Churchill Downs, but Pimlico Race Course unfortunately also had a horse death happen at its track. During a preliminary race just hours before the Preakness, trainer Bob Baffert’s horse, Havnameltdown, tripped and threw his jockey, Luis Saez, onto the track before running the final turn in some clear distress, as described by PBS. After being examined by chief veterinary officer Dr. Dionne Benson, it was determined that Havnameltdown’s injury was inoperable and the horse was put down. Saez was taken to a local hospital after being bucked off the colt but was in stable condition and had clean x-rays following the incident.
Bob Baffert is one of the greatest racehorse trainers of this generation. Baffert has had two horses win the Triple Crown, American Pharoh in 2015 and Justify in 2018, and his horses have won six Kentucky Derbies, three Kentucky Oaks, three Belmont Stakes, and now eight Preakness Stakes. However, when Baffert is involved in a race he brings some controversy of his own. In 2021, Baffert’s horse Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby, but the title was later rescinded after the colt tested positive for a banned substance.
As detailed by Sports Illustrated, Churchill Downs suspended Baffert from entering horses in the 2022 and 2023 Kentucky Derbies, but he was still allowed to enter horses in both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes at the time. In February 2022, Baffert was banned for 90 days from entering horses in any race in the state of Kentucky. CBS states that later in 2022, Baffert also was banned from entering horses in Maryland and New York, which are the host states for the Preakness and Belmont Stakes respectively. Thus meaning that he missed the full 2022 Triple Crown series.
In 2023, Baffert was allowed to return to the Preakness Stakes, and he had multiple horses entered to race at Pimlico Race Course throughout the day. Following the death of Havnameltdown, Baffert still had a horse set to compete in the Preakness Stakes, National Treasure. The 2023 Derby winner, Mage, was the only colt from the Derby to compete in the Preakness and was favored to win the race, which would have gotten him one race closer to a Triple Crown. Mage and National Treasure both got out of the gate quickly, but National Treasure took an early lead, leaving Mage battling in the midfield at fourth. It looked like the main competition was going to be between National Treasure and Coffeewithchris, but Blazing Sevens came from the middle of the pack to overtake Mage, Coffeewithchris, and Red Route One. Going into the last 1/4 mile, Blazing Sevens and National Treasure were neck and neck, with Blazing Sevens closing in fast. Ultimately, National Treasure was able to hold off Blazing Sevens by just 1/4 length, giving jockey John Velazquez his first Preakness win and Bob Baffert his record-tying eighth Preakness win.
Courtesy of Julia Nikhinson, AP Photo
Mage finished the Preakness Stakes in third place, ending his bid for the Triple Crown. Horse racing will now go a fifth straight year without a Triple Crown winner, the last winner being Justify in 2018, who was trained by Bob Baffert. As for Baffert, Saturday was an emotional day for him as he lost Havnameltdown just hours before winning with National Treasure. Havnameltdown’s death is another name on a long list since the end of April, with most of the deaths happening at Churchill Downs. After a number of scratches, the Kentucky Derby had its smallest field since 2020, and when First Mission was scratched from the Preakness, it narrowed the field down to seven horses, the smallest field since 1986, according to the Athletic. Havnameltdown was not the only horse to die in the past week as two more horses passed at Churchill Downs, both being euthanized after inoperable injuries. Many are calling into question the ethics of horse racing as a whole, and especially at these large historic venues like Churchill Downs and Pimlico Race Course. Owners, trainers, and jockeys will now focus their efforts on the third of the Triple Crown races, the 155th Belmont Stakes which will take place at Belmont Park in New York on June 10th.