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Cover photo credit: Jonathan Newton (Washington Post)

Fifty-one year old jockey John Velazquez had six Triple Crown wins coming into the race on Saturday at Pimlico. He won the Kentucky Derby four times and the Belmont twice. A Preakness victory was the missing notch in his Triple Crown belt. 

Forty-five year old Jockey Javier Castellano had ridden in sixteen Kentucky Derby races before the first Saturday on May this year without a win. Much like “Johnny V.” he also had a missing notch on his Triple Crown belt.
Both have now fulfilled those elusive career dreams and I could not be happier for them. Congratulations to two of the best jocks in the business!
That being said, I have to tell you, as I watched the two horses trained by  Chad Brown and Bob Baffert battle down the stretch for the Preakness win, I had a hard time rooting for either of them. I truly wanted Velazquez to get his Preakness; but,  I am neither a Baffert nor a Brown fan.  
At post time, we were left with a seven-horse field for the 148th running of the second jewel in the Triple Crown. Only Mage, the winner of the Kentucky Derby, was entered to run back in two weeks. And, First Mission, touted by some as the best three-year-old in Brad Cox’s barn, was scratched just days before the race. That left us with Mage, a group of Grade 2 or Grade 3 caliber horses, and a couple of contenders who belong in ungraded company altogether. 
The race set up perfectly for Velasquez with National Treasure’s front-running style.  For once I think  the rail post was actually an advantage as he needed to get the jump on the field from that post. And he did. National Treasure broke beautifully and never looked back.  CoffeewithChris was the only other speed horse in the race and he was not in the same league with National Treasure. The excellent break and the jump on the field caused Irad Ortiz, Jr. to engage more quickly than he’d probably have liked on Blazing Sevens. However, his horse ran his eyeballs out only to be beaten at the wire. 
The setup with lone speed also caused difficulty for Mage and Red Route One. Both had to sit closer to the pace than they prefer, and it resulted in third and fourth pace finishes. This was not a particularly fast Preakness and certainly will not be remembered as such. National Treasure got a 98 Beyer for his effort. Compare that to the blazing hot 107 for Straight No Chaser earlier on the card. 
From a wagering standpoint, the payouts were as lackluster as the field of contenders. The $1 exacta paid only $15, the 50-cent trifecta $12.10, and the 10-cent superfecta a whopping $7.24. Yikes! Fortunately, I had a Black Eyed Susan/Preakness Double that paid well. I also had a futures wager from April on “all other 3-year-olds”  that closed at 13-1. 
I am a strong advocate for more time between Triple Crown races. I see no reason why we cannot put four weeks between each race and allow horses to recover from the grueling mile and a quarter in the first jewel. In addition to being much better for the horses, it will absolutely increase the field size and give the fans in Baltimore and around the country a much better experience. Common sense if you ask me. 
Preakness Day was an emotional rollercoaster for those of us who enjoy horse racing but love the horses, themselves, so much more. Another Baffert-trained horse had a catastrophic breakdown six races before the Preakness. The industry is making some attempt to police itself with the new HISA rules, but it is either not enough or not the right stuff yet. 
Churchill Downs has nine recorded horse deaths since opening Day at the end of April. We need to do better. We must do better if this sport is to survive. 
The Belmont is in three weeks. It is the longest race in the series at a mile and a half. Expect to see Forte back in the mix for Pletcher and Repole. I would not be surprised to see First Mission, National Treasure, and Red Route One as well. Mage will get a well-deserved break on the farm.  You will likely see him in the Travers in August. 

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