A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
2023 Triple Crown Profiles: Projecting Preakness Winner National Treasure’s Chances in Belmont StakesRacing
Welcome to 2023 Triple Crown Prospect Profiles, updated after the first jewel of the Triple Crown from Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshots, where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail or one of the three classic races.
This week, of course, we’ll take a closer look at $1.65 million Preakness Stakes winner National Treasure and evaluate his chances to continue his success in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets June 10.
The celebration of National Treasure’s determined victory by a head over Blazing Sevens May 20 at Pimlico was diminished significantly by the loss earlier that day of his stablemate Havnameltdown, also trained by Bob Baffert. Havnameltdown suffered a catastrophic injury approaching the stretch in a stakes race earlier on the card at Pimlico and was euthanized, which cast a pall over the entire day.
Racing Résumé: National Treasure entered the Preakness with only one victory to his credit from five starts, having won his debut by 1 ½ lengths Sept. 3, 2022, at Del Mar. He had, however, established a level of class that proved he fit against the best of his age group.
As a 2-year-old, he finished second in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes and third in the $2 million FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. He also ran third as the 3-5 favorite to stablemates Reincarnate and Newgate in the Sham Stakes Jan. 8 in his 3-year-old debut.
Because Baffert was ineligible to compete at Churchill Downs due to Medina’s Spirit’s medication violation in the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and horses in his care could not accrue points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby or Longines Kentucky Oaks, National Treasure was transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen in February. The colt was pointed to the San Felipe Stakes March 4 but was scratched because of a sore foot. He made his next start in the $751,500 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and finished fourth, 2 ¾ lengths behind winner Practical Move. Without sufficient qualifying points to make the Kentucky Derby field, National Treasure was returned to Baffert’s care and was pointed to the Preakness.
Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Mage was the only starter in that race among 18 to return for the Preakness on two weeks rest, and what drew as an eight-horse field was further reduced on May 19 when morning-line second choice First Mission was scratched. By the time the Preakness was held in the early evening of May 20, National Treasure was faced with a small field of six opponents and no obvious pacesetter.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez seized the opportunity and sent National Treasure to the lead in the 1 3/16-mile race through an easy half-mile in :48.92 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.49, so when Grade 1 winner Blazing Sevens rallied to challenge National Treasure was ready for a battle.
The duo dueled through the final furlong but National Treasure would not be denied and earned a career-defining victory with what was only his second win. Next up for National Treasure? It looks like the target will be the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on June 10 at Belmont Park.
“The plan is to ship to New York [Wednesday] and we'll take it day by day from there. He bounced out of the Preakness in great shape and seems to have a lot of energy and good appetite, all those good signs,” SF Racing’s Tom Ryan, managing partner of the 3-year-old’s ownership group, told BloodHorse. “I think he gave us every reason to believe he’s fit enough to handle the mile-and-a-half. We’re looking forward to it.”
Speed Figures: Winning classic races often takes a significant leap forward in terms of speed figures for a 3-year-old, facing the cream of the crop in the division, but National Treasure needed only a small improvement to win May 20 at Pimlico. He had earned 101 Equibase Speed Figures for his two previous races in 2023 after topping out at 100 as a juvenile, and National Treasure earned a new top 102 for the Preakness victory. Likewise, he earned a new one-point top Beyer Speed Figure of 98 (he earned a 97 for the American Pharoah Stakes at 2), and the Preakness was a three-point Beyer improvement from his Santa Anita Derby fourth-place finish.
Perhaps the fact that, on paper, the Preakness does not appear to have been an overly taxing race – the easy pace also played a role in that – helped instill the confidence in National Treasure’s connections to push on to the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes on three weeks rest.
Running Style: National Treasure’s two wins both came when he set the pace, so that looks to be his preferred running style, but he has run well against good competition when being rated off the pace as he was in four previous stakes attempts before the Preakness. Although the Belmont Stakes is 1 ½ miles, tactical speed is a big advantage in the race because Belmont Park is a 1 ½-mile oval (most tracks are a mile) and that makes saving grounds on the sweeping turns very important. Getting caught three or four paths wide on either turn would result in a ton of extra ground to navigate, so any runner who can settle near the front and find a path close to the rail gains a tactical advantage.
Connections: National Treasure was purchased for $500,000 at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga select yearling sale by bloodstock agent Donato Lanni on behalf of the partnership of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert E. Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay A. Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan. He was a colt they had targeted before the sale and by a sire, Quality Road, that the ownership group has among its preferred list.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert earned his record-setting eighth win in the Preakness – moving out of a tie with 19th century trainer R. Wyndham Walden – and secured his 17th win in a U.S. Triple Crown race. Baffert trained 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 Triple Crown victor Justify. Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for a medication violation after the race and Baffert was barred from competing at Churchill Downs for two years.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez earned his first victory in the Preakness Stakes after three times finishing second in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. It was one of the few holes on his résumé as he is the all-time leading North American rider by purse earnings with more than $466.8 million and has won the Kentucky Derby three times and the Belmont Stakes twice.
Pedigree Notes: National Treasure is by Quality Road, by Elusive Quality. Quality Road won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby in 2009 and would have almost certainly been favored in the Kentucky Derby, but he missed the race because of quarter cracks in two of his hooves. He won four Grade 1 races, including the Metropolitan Handicap at a mile and the Woodward Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. He also won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap by 12 ¾ lengths in a performance that earned a 130 Equibase Speed Figure.
Quality Road has developed into a terrific sire with champions Abel Tasman, Corniche, and Caledonia Road along with 2019 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes winner City of Light among his 84 stakes winners from 10 crops of racing age.
National Treasure was produced by the placed Medaglia d’Oro mare Treasure, a half-sibling (same dam [mother], different sire) to stakes winners Inspired, Silver City, Elope, and Initiation. All seven of Treasure’s starts came in sprints at 6 ½ furlongs or shorter. Stakes-placed sprinter Proposal, by Mt. Livermore, is National Treasure’s grandam (maternal grandmother).
Belmont Stakes Outlook: Despite the presence of Kentucky Derby winner Mage in the Preakness, the 2023 Belmont Stakes projects to boast a much deeper and more talented field a little over two weeks from now, including champion Forte. The Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa winner was scratched as the morning-line favorite from the Derby on the morning of the race and should be well-rested having beaten Mage in his previous start. The Belmont also could include Derby third-place finisher Angel of Empire, winner of the Arkansas Derby; Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Tapit Trice; Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby winner Kingsbarns; and Kentucky Derby fifth-place finisher Hit Show among others.
Given Kingsbarns’ presence, National Treasure could face more pressure for the early lead but as of now the Belmont field does not have a ton of speedy types, so the pace does not project to be especially hot at this point. Note: much could change in the coming weeks as the field takes shape.
National Treasure has only run three times this year and comes out of a win in which he essentially equaled his best speed figure, so there is a chance he could match that race in his fourth start of the year or even improve slightly on three weeks of rest. My main concerns are that this looks like a significantly tougher group and the bottom half of his pedigree does not give me a ton of confidence that 1 ½ miles will be within his scope. The Belmont Stakes, as it always is, will be a formidable challenge. They call it the “test of the champion” for a reason.