A horse trained by Bob Baffert was euthanized at the racetrack Saturday from a leg injury during undercard at Pimlico Race Course, several hours before another three-year-old Hall of Famer stallion, National Treasure, won the Preakness Stakes.
On the same dirt course that staged the second stage of the Triple Crown, the favorite Havnameltdown gave way and threw jockey Luis Saez off his back in the sixth race of the day, then continued running around the final corner in some distress.
Havnameltdown was administered by Chief Veterinarian Dr. Dionne Benson and others, who determined the injury to his left front leg was inoperable and the horse needed to be euthanized, according to a statement from 1/ST Racing, the track owner and operator.
Saez was conscious and was taken to Sinai Hospital for evaluation. He complained of leg pain, track officials said. He was tended to by medical staff on the route for several minutes before being placed on a stretcher and into an ambulance.
Havnameltdown’s death comes on another important day of racing after the Kentucky Derby was marred by the deaths of seven at Churchill Downs in a span of ten days.
“It’s the worst feeling. And we mourn. We mourn when something like this happens. “There’s nothing worse than coming back and the booth is empty,” Baffert said. “He’s a beautiful horse. He couldn’t have been better off. It’s disgusting. I’m in shock.”
Later in the day, Baffert’s voice cracked as he discussed “the emotion of this game” after watching National Treasure beat Blazing Sevens by a head in the Preakness, ending Derby champion Mage’s attempt at a Triple Crown. Mage was third on Saturday.
National Treasure gave Baffert his record eighth Preakness win and 17th Triple Crown win overall, another mark.
Havnameltdown was the 4-5 favorite for the $200,000 dirt race. He broke from the No. 1 inside post, was knocked out of the gate by No. 2 Ryvit, but ran on in the 6th run. Havnameltdown and Ryvit, the eventual race winner, were leading the field by turn two.
Fans in the crowd at Pimlico Race Course gasped as the horse stumbled before the last corner and threw Saez. With the jockey being examined by medical staff while remaining on the dirt, the horse was brought under control by track staff on the home straight and then led behind some black cordons.
In an inopportune scene, 2Pac’s “California Love” continued to blare out of infield speakers placed right near where it all happened.
“Very unfortunate,” said Tyler Gaffalione, Ryvit’s jockey. “Hopefully Luis is doing well. We were, so to speak, in advance and he just disappeared. I looked back and saw Luis coming off the side.”
Baffert pointed out that his horse “obviously got hit pretty hard coming out of the gate.”
“We don’t know if this contributed to the injury but we will be fully transparent with those reviewing this horrific accident,” he tweeted.
Baffert walked horses for the first time in two years during Preakness weekend after returning from a suspension stemming from 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed drug test. He has not been able to enter horses in the Derby for the last two years due to a decision by Churchill Downs. And in the 2022 Preakness or Belmont, he couldn’t have one due to a 90-day suspension in Kentucky respected by Maryland and New York.
Another of his horses, Arabian Lion, won an earlier race on Saturday.
Saez, a Panamanian who turned 31 on Friday, was originally scheduled to ride front-runner First Mission in the Preakness. But this horse was scratched on the advice of vets because of a problem with his rear left ankle.
At the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Saez rode Maximum Security first across the finish line, but the stewards rescinded the win, dropping the colt to 17th place after blocking the path of several horses. Saez was subsequently suspended and charged with causing the disruption.
Earlier in the year he was aboard Kentucky Derby champion Mage and finished second in the Florida Derby. Two weeks ago at Churchill Downs, Saez’s horse Tapit Trice finished seventh in the Derby.
Havnameltdown, owned by Michael Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, had won four of his six career starts prior to this race. Most recently, he finished second at the Saudi Derby in February.
“We never had a problem with him,” Baffert said. “We’re so careful with all these horses and it’s still happening OK.”
AP national journalist Howard Fendrich and AP sportswriter Noah Trister contributed.
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