Bob Baffert is back at the Preakness for his first Triple Crown race in two years, returning from a suspension and looking for a record-breaking win with National Treasure.
The white-haired Hall of Fame trainer and one of the faces of horse racing was in a familiar spot outside the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course on Friday morning. National Treasure is his first horse at the Preakness since 2021 with Medina Spirit, whose disqualification that year after winning the Kentucky Derby for failing a drug test caused Baffert to be barred from the sport’s best-known race since.
“We love it here: It’s very low key, and they treat you really well,” Baffert said. “It’s laid-back, chill, you’ve got a Derby winner, so everybody’s excited about the Derby winner. The Preakness is about coming here, having fun and they want to see the Derby winner run.”
Baffert was not eligible to enter a horse in the Preakness or Belmont last year because of a 90-day suspension in Kentucky that Maryland and New York honoured.
“We just keep on moving forward,” Baffert said of his return from suspension. “We have other horses to worry about. A lot of it is noise, so you keep the noise out and continue working, stay busy.”
Staying busy could mean plenty of winning this weekend. National Treasure is Derby champion Mage’s top challenger in the Preakness, and Baffert has three favourites in other big races: filly Faiza in the US$300,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, Havnameltdown in the US$200,000 Chick Lang and Arabian Lion in the US$100,000 Sir Barton.
“You bring ’em, you hope they win,” Baffert said. “It’s good to be involved in these races. Our whole operation is to play at the top level – to play at this level. All my clients like to play at this level so if you can come here and win those races, they’re exciting to win on the big days.”
The biggest race of the weekend is the US$1.65-million Preakness, which Baffert and 19th-century trainer R. Wyndham Walden each have won seven times. Baffert said he has “never been one to think about records. I just like to enjoy it and have good horses and compete.”
Baffert has brought a lot of good horses to Baltimore during his career.
He did not come to Pimlico two years ago, leaving long-time assistant Jimmy Barnes to saddle Medina Spirit in an effort not to be a distraction after word emerged that the horse had tested positive at Churchill Downs for a medication that was not allowed on race day. Medina Spirit was allowed to run in the Preakness with additional testing procedures and finished third.
Baffert-trained Authentic finished second in the Preakness run in October with no fans in 2020 after winning the Derby. He most recently won the Preakness in 2018 with Justify, who went on to become horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown champion.
This time, he said Mage – who won the Derby at odds of 15 to 1 – is the horse to beat. Baffert’s just happy to be here.
“We’re just here to be a part of it and hopefully get a piece of it or all of it or whatever,” he said. “We love Pimlico. It’s basically the only time I eat crabcakes all year.”
First Mission scratched by vet
Brad Cox-trained First Mission has been scratched from the Preakness on the advice of veterinarians, taking one of the top contenders out of the Triple Crown race 36 hours before post time. Owner Godolphin and the Maryland Jockey Club announced the scratch early Friday, saying vets identified an issue with First Mission’s left hind ankle. The withdrawal comes in the aftermath of five scratches for the Kentucky Derby and one horse who was scheduled to run being among the seven who died of various causes at Churchill Downs over a 10-day span. The removal of First Mission leaves seven horses in the field for the race. He was the early second choice at odds of 5 to 2 behind only 8-to5 favourite Mage, who won the Kentucky Derby.