Key Takeaways from 2023 Preakness Stakes Weekend at Pimlico

Preakness Stakes Pimlico Triple Crown horse racing National Treasure John Velazquez Bob Baffert Chad Brown Mage Kentucky Derby Arabian Lion Sir Barton Stakes Taxed Black-Eyed Susan Stakes Randy Morse
National Treasure (right) outfinished Blazing Sevens to win the Preakness Stakes by a head on May 20 at Pimlico. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the $1.65 million Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, and other developments this weekend at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

RIGHT MOVES: From equipment to the timing involved in shipping National Treasure from the West Coast to Baltimore, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert made all the right moves in notching a record eighth Preakness triumph. The addition of blinkers was key after a lackluster fourth-place finish in the April 8 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. “You could tell he was still green, figuring it out,” Baffert said about National Treasure and the need for equipment to help him focus. Interestingly, the Quality Road colt was the first horse to arrive at Pimlico, coming in last Saturday night to allow him ample time to grow accustomed to his new surroundings.

LOST GROUND: As good a trip as National Treasure got from the rail in the Preakness under John Velazquez, the opposite was true after runner-up Blazing Sevens and Irad Ortiz, Jr., broke from farthest outside in the field of seven. As trainer Chad Brown saw it, that meant the difference between what would have been his third Preakness victory and an agonizing setback by a head. “I was a little bit worried because he was so wide the whole way. I thought it might take the starch out of him a little bit and it did,” Brown said. “He had the outside post and I think Irad made the best decisions that he could. I don’t see what he could have done differently. The winner showed a lot of heart to battle back, so you have to give him credit.”

Mage (Eclipse Sportswire)

PACE MAKES RACE: Never was that adage truer than in the 148th edition of the Preakness. Velazquez produced a masterpiece of a ride. He was able to slow the pace to a crawl as victorious National Treasure cruised through an opening half-mile in 48.92 seconds and three-quarters in a sluggish 1:13.49 en route to a final time of 1:55.12. Although jockey Javier Castellano kept Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Mage closer to the front than usual, there was simply no pace for him to run into. “The way it developed, the way it unfolded, it was a disadvantage for the horses coming from behind,” Castellano said.

ROARING LION: Zedan Racing StablesArabian Lion performed so well in the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes that Baffert lamented not entering him in the Preakness and may point him toward the June 10 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Belmont Park. Arabian Lion, under a confident ride by Velazquez, drew off from nearest rival Tapit’s Conquest by four lengths. He completed the 1 1/16-mile contest in a swift 1:41.13. Baffert said of the son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify: “He is like a smaller version of Justify and I think he is just starting to wake up.” Velazquez noted a dramatic transformation in the 3-year-old since they were a well-beaten fourth in the Feb. 4 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park. “It didn’t seem like he wanted to go two turns. He’s a different horse,” he said.

Taxed and Rafael Bejarano. (Eclipse Sportswire)

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: The $300,000 George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, an important race for 3-year-old fillies as a prelude to the Preakness, has become a field of dreams for longshots. Only one filly has delivered as a favorite since 2005. That occurred when classy Royal Delta came through in 2011. Taxed continued that odd pattern on Friday when she surprised at 11-1 and returned $24 for a $2 wager. The result was hard to handicap. She had not won since Midwest-based trainer Randy Morse claimed her for $50,000 out of a maiden win last autumn. “Just one of those deals where we got lucky,” Morse said of acquiring Taxed.

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