Preakness (G1) number 13 ironically turned out to be the lucky one for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who secured his first win in the middle jewel of racing's Triple Crown on Saturday by guiding National Treasure to a head victory over Blazing Sevens after a thrilling stretch duel down the Pimlico stretch in the $1.65 million fixture.
Despite having ridden three Kentucky Derby (G1) winners in past editions of the Preakness, it was the one classic which until Saturday had eluded the 51-year-old native of Puerto Rico. He had finished second in three of his previous 12 Preakness tries, including a heartbreaking loss to the filly Swiss Skydiver aboard Derby winner Authentic in the pandemic-delayed 2020 edition. Velazquez had even been unceremoniously dumped by another mount, Bodexpress, shortly after the start of the 2019 renewal.
Everything, however, clicked with National Treasure, the 2.90-1 second choice in a field of seven. Sent to the lead by Velazquez from post 1, National Treasure was allowed to set a modest pace while being chased by Coffeewithchris, Blazing Sevens, and Kentucky Derby winner Mage, the 7-5 favorite. The opening quarter-mile was accomplished in :23.95, a half-mile in :48.92, and six furlongs in 1:13.49.
"Looking at the pace, I didn't think we were going to go any faster than that, though I was hoping anyway," Velazquez said.
Entering the far turn, Blazing Sevens made a bid to challenge National Treasure, with Mage following that rival. However, Mage was ultimately unable to turn in a significant challenge down the stretch, undoubtedly due to the slow early pace.
The stretch run was nonetheless a barn burner. Brushing with each other several times, National Treasure and Blazing Sevens duked it out for the final three-sixteenths of a mile. National Treasure found more at the needed time, though, tenaciously regaining an edge in the final yards to win in a time of 1:55.12 for 1 3/16 miles over a fast track. Owned by a partnership that includes SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Bob Masterson, and Stonestreet, National Treasure paid $7.80.
National Treasure was the record eighth Preakness winner trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who for five years had shared the record for most wins in the race by a trainer with 19th century horseman R. Wyndham Walden.
Following National Treasure and Blazing Sevens under the wire were Mage (the only Kentucky Derby starter entered back in the Preakness), Red Route One, Chase the Chaos, Perform, and Coffeewithchris. First Mission, the second choice on the morning line, was scratched Friday due to an injury.
The Preakness was the first stakes win for National Treasure and his first in any race since his debut last September at Del Mar. He was subsequently second behind stablemate Cave Rock in the American Pharoah (G1) and third to division champion Forte in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) to close out his two-year-old campaign.
Third in the Sham (G3) in his season debut, National Treasure missed an intended start in the San Felipe (G2) due to a sore foot, and then failed to earn enough qualifying points to make the Kentucky Derby field when finishing fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in his most recent start. National Treasure has now bankrolled $1.335 million.
Bred in Kentucky by Peter Blum and sold for $500,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling, National Treasure is by Quality Road and out of Treasure, by Medaglia d'Oro.