National Treasure gives the Pimlico surface a whirl (Maryland Jockey Club)
David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club
BALTIMORE— In his first visit to Pimlico Race Course in almost three years, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said Friday it was hard to predict whether his Preakness Stakes (G1) starter National Treasure could deliver a record-breaking eighth win in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Justify’s victory in 2018 on his march to a sweep of the Triple Crown pulled Baffert, 70, even with 19th-century trainer R. Wyndham Walden for the most winners in race Preakness history. He holds the record for most wins in the Triple Crown series with 16.
National Treasure will be Baffert’s first starter in a Triple Crown race since Medina Spirit finished third in the 2021 Preakness. Baffert was last on the grounds in October 2020 when his Derby winner Authentic finished second to Swiss Skydiver in the rescheduled Preakness. National Treasure, a son of Quality Road, has not raced since finishing fourth in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (G1). He has one victory in five career starts but has been graded stakes-placed three times.
Baffert shipped the colt and three other Preakness Weekend stakes horses from California to Baltimore on Saturday and traveled to Maryland on Thursday with his family. He watched National Treasure go out for his morning exercise at Old Hilltop.
“He looked fine,” said Baffert, whose trainee is rated second at 3-1 behind 4-5 favorite Mage on the revised morning line. “He just galloped around there. It was a routine gallop. He looks healthy.”
Baffert had already decided to put blinkers back on National Treasure before he drew Post 1. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who has yet to win the Preakness, will ride the colt for the fifth time.
“The last time, Johnny thought he was running in spurts,” Baffert said. “He was in and out and he would get in tight between horses. It’s not much blinker, really.”
Baffert never tips his hand on strategy and did not offer any insight on whether National Treasure, with blinkers and on the rail, would be sent from the gate in a quest to grab an early lead.
“You know what? You just don’t know with him,” Baffert said. “I am going to leave it up to Johnny. You don’t know how they are going to break from the one hole. What I don’t like about the one hole is they usually break a step slow.”
American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner, was the only one of Baffert’s Preakness winners to draw Post 1. Each of his Preakness winners competed in the Kentucky Derby. Five of them came to Baltimore with Derby wins, the other two, Point Given in 2001 and Lookin At Lucky in 2010, were the beaten favorites.
“I have never won it off not running in the Derby,” Baffert said. “It’s different. I think they have an advantage when they have run in the Derby and come back here.”
Baffert has often described National Treasure as a late-developing colt that he expects will improve with experience. In the Preakness, he will be one of the six new shooters taking on Derby winner Mage.
“I think he has been training well,” Baffert said. “His last works were pretty strong. He is a light horse. Distance-wise, he has always shown that the distance should not be a problem. I think this is the race we should find out more about him. He is doing really well.
“Is he the caliber of Mage? I don’t know. I think Mage is a good horse. Anytime you have a horse that has only had a few outs and wins the Kentucky Derby, that is pretty impressive,” he added. “To me, the Preakness is all about the Derby winner. People want to watch the Derby winner run. They want to come here, have a good time and watch the Derby winner run.”
Part of the Preakness week tradition are questions about whether the Triple Crown schedule should be changed and made less demanding. The Preakness is held two weeks after the Derby and the Belmont Stakes (G1) is run three weeks after the Preakness. Baffert said he would not be in favor of a revision.
“No. I think it would lose its tradition,” he said. “It’s the last that we have. It’s important. The Breeders’ Cup is important, but the Classics will always be what the people watch. They watch. Mage is now a celebrity horse, and they want to watch that. Flightline was a great horse, but people didn’t know who Flightline was. We all know how great he was, but the Joe Public, they didn’t know. That is why the Classics are important, If they went another week, it would still be the same horses. Trainers don’t run their horses like they used to. I think everyone is just worried about being criticized.”
National Treasure is owned by SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Robert E. Masterson, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Jay A. Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital LLC and Catherine Donovan.