Mage entered the 2023 Preakness Stakes with hopes for the Triple Crown and exited it with a surprise loss.
National Treasure, which entered the race at 5-2 odds, took home an unexpected win at Pimlico on Saturday, defeating the Kentucky Derby winner and pre-race favorite Mage. He finished with a time of 1:55.12.
Blazing Sevens finished the race in the place position, losing out by a head, while Mage showed for third.
National Treasure, trained by the controversial Bob Baffert, began the race in the lead and held it for nearly the entire run. Like in the Derby, Mage began away from the leaders and tried to overtake from the outside down the stretch, but the race instead became a neck-and-neck affair between National Treasure and Blazing Sevens.
The win is Baffert’s record eighth at the Preakness and his 17th at a Triple Crown race. It was a different story for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who got his first Preakness win at age 51 in his 13th running of the race.
It is the fifth straight time the Kentucky Derby winner didn’t win the Preakness. The last horse to go even back-to-back at the two races was 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.
A $1 exacta bet would have paid off $15.90, with a trifecta delivering $24.20 and a superfecta $72.40 with Coffeewithchris in fourth place.
Bob Baffert lost horse in earlier race before National Treasure’s Preakness win
National Treasure’s win came a few hours after a dark scene at Pimlico, when Havnameltdown, also trained by Baffert, was euthanized on the track due to a “non-operable” fetlock injury.
“This business is twists and turns, the ups and downs. We had a horrible race, and then we were total wiped out after that horse got hurt,” Baffert told the NBC broadcast after the race. “Losing that horse really hurt.”
The Derby had been held in a similar environment due to seven horse deaths in the run-up at Churchill Downs.
The Preakness was Baffert’s return to Triple Crown racing following his two-year suspension, imposed due to Medina Spirit’s since-stripped win at the Kentucky Derby and subsequent failed drug tests. Baffert remains under a cloud of scrutiny, and winning a Triple Crown race the same day one of his horses had to be put down won’t change that.
Mage was odds-on Preakness favorite after First Mission scratched
This year’s race saw a running of only seven horses. Mage entered as the clear favorite, with a morning line of 4-5, among a field that contained none of his 17 competitors from the Derby. He eventually settled to 7/5 at race time.
Those odds shortened significantly the day before the race when First Mission, considered the horse most likely to knock off Mage, was scratched due to a left hind issue that worried the veterinarians. That left National Treasure as the closest to Mage on the board at 3-1 the next morning, followed by Blazing Sevens at 5-1.
That favorite status for Mage was a contrast to how he entered the Derby, where Mage went off at 15-1 odds to win. The 3-year-old colt had only three previous starts — and one win — to his name, and he became only the third horse to win the race after not racing as a 2-year-old, joining 2018 winner Justify and 1882 winner Apollo, per Bloodhorse.
Those odds seemed to bear out early in the race, when Mage found himself near the back of the pack amid a fast pace by the leaders. Jockey Javier Castellano made his move around the three-quarter-mile mark, breaking to the outside and surging to the lead in the final stretch.
Mage topped runner-up Two Phil’s by a length with a time of 2:01.57, while Angel of Empire, one of the pre-race favorites, showed for third.
Neither Two Phil’s nor Angel of Empire were present in Maryland on Saturday. Larry Rivelli, trainer of Two Phil’s, told Bloodhorse that two weeks was “too soon” for Two Phil’s to get back into shape, and he didn’t expect to run the Belmont Stakes either. Angel of Empire, however, is reportedly on track to compete at Belmont.
Pre-Derby favorite Forte wasn’t ready for Preakness return
The real drama of the Derby came before the race, when morning favorite Forte was scratched hours before the race after a veterinary inspection. It was later reported Forte had failed a drug test in September, but that wasn’t a reason for the scratch.
Forte was also rendered ineligible for the Preakness after being placed on the veterinary list for two weeks due to a bruised right front foot.