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What About Bob? Baffert Returns to Spotlight With Preakness Victory

The probables for the Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness Double were telling. Kentucky Derby winner Mage would not be a heavy favorite to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown. His potential payouts at the racebook weren’t that much smaller than those connected to National Treasure.

A key scratch also led to National Treasure, trained by the embattled Bob Baffert, setting an easy pace en route to winning the 148th Preakness Stakes on Saturday.

What About Bob? Baffert Returns to Spotlight With Preakness Victory
Jockey John Velazquez #1 riding National Treasure - Maryland. Patrick Smith/Getty Images/afp

Mage Did His Best in Paceless Scenario

Preakness predictions became a bit more difficult when First Mission was scratched on Friday. He was supposed to be a pace presence, making it potentially easier for horses such as Mage to gobble up the front-runners. Mage did his best to stay close to National Treasure, trailing by a reasonable 3½ lengths after one-half mile. The problem? Those four furlongs were run in 48.92 seconds, a snail’s pace in a Grade I classic and for horses of this caliber.

“Not much speed in the race,” Javier Castellano, Mage’s jockey, told the media. “The way it unfolded, the race disadvantaged the horses coming from behind.”

It is highly unlikely that Mage would run – for the third time in five weeks – in the Belmont with no Triple Crown at stake. He had a magical run in the Derby, but ran out of tricks in the Preakness.

We’ll see how he comes back,” Mage assistant trainer Gustavo Delgado Jr. said. “We’ll regroup, take our time and see what’s next. Nobody is going to take the Derby from him.”

Baffert: Highs and Lows in One Day

The cruel side of horse racing reared its ugly head in the Chick Lang Stakes on Saturday when Havnameltdown, trained by Baffert, broke down while in contention on the far turn.

Havnameltdown was euthanized on the track after sustaining an inoperable leg injury. Baffert’s voice cracked hours later after National Treasure gave him his record eighth Preakness victory.

It’s the worst feeling,’’ Baffert said. “And we grieve. We do grieve when these things happen. There is nothing worse than coming back and the stall is empty. He is a nice horse. He could not have been doing any better. It’s sickening. I am in shock.”

John Velazquez gave National Treasure a masterful ride. Let go as the 5-2 second choice in the Las Vegas odds, National Treasure was sent to the lead. The Hall of Famer moved the Quality Road colt well off the rail as they traveled down the stretch the first time, forcing Blazing Sevens to go wide. The heady move and the ensuing slow fractions allowed National Treasure to hold off Blazing Sevens by a head after a stirring stretch duel.

It was Velazquez’s first Preakness victory in his 13th try. He won the Kentucky Derby three times and the Belmont twice.

Belmont Bean Counters Crying in Their Beer

The folks who run Belmont Park weren’t pleased when Mage came up empty in the Pimlico stretch. That meant there would be no Triple Crown on the line in the Belmont Stakes on June 10. The Belmont news isn’t all bad, though, as this day arguably produces the third-best card in North America on an annual basis behind Breeders’ Cup Saturday and Kentucky Derby Day.

It’s too early to tell whether National Treasure will run. Baffert has another contender in Arabian Lion, who won the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard by four lengths at 2-5 when betting online. Baffert said the Belmont is also possible for the son of 2017 Triple Crown winner Justify.

Todd Pletcher has won the Belmont four times. Tapit Trice, seventh as the second choice in the Kentucky Derby, and Kingsbarns (14th) could represent the Hall of Fame trainer next month. Angel of Empire, third as the 4-1 favorite in the Derby, would also make his presence felt if entered, and would be a big factor when making any Belmont picks.

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