BALTIMORE, Maryland — Death darkened the site of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, much as it had the site of the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago: A horse was euthanized after getting injured during an undercard race at Pimlico, marring yet another big Triple Crown day for a sport already reeling after more than a half-dozen fatalities at Churchill Downs.
Black barriers were propped up on the dirt track to shield the eyes of audibly gasping spectators as the 3-year-old colt, Havnameltdown – trained by back-from-suspension Hall of Famer Bob Baffert – was put down because of what a team of veterinarians termed a “non-operable” left front leg injury. All the while, 2Pac’s “California Love” blared from the infield speakers at what is intended as an annual day-long celebration of thoroughbred racing.
The somber scene, which included jockey Luis Saez being carried on a stretcher to an ambulance that took him to a hospital, played out a little more than five hours before Derby champion Mage was scheduled to compete in the Preakness in pursuit of the Triple Crown. Baffert’s horse, National Treasure, was considered Mage’s biggest challenger in the unusually small field of seven.
Baffert said he and his team were devastated by the death of Havnameltdown.
“This is a shock to everyone at our barn who love and care for these horses every day,” Baffert posted on Twitter. “Hanvameltdown was obviously hit pretty hard coming out of the gate. We don’t know if that contributed to the injury, but we will be fully transparent with those reviewing this terrible accident.”
Reviews are underway to determine the causes of the deaths of seven horses over a span of 10 days at Churchill Downs in late April and early May leading up to the Derby, along with a more recent eighth fatality at the Louisville track.
While horse racing deaths in the U.S. are at their lowest level since they began being tracked in 2009, adding another at the track hosting a Triple Crown race will only intensify the internal and external scrutiny of the industry. Those inside it have said they accept the realities of on-track deaths of horses while also acknowledging more work needs to be done to prevent as many as possible.
In that vein, new national medication and doping rules are set to go into effect on Monday. The federally mandated Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, which already regulated racetrack safety and other measures, will oversee drug testing requirements for horses that should standardize the sport nationwide.
Before that, Mage has the chance with a Preakness win to become the first horse to go to the Belmont Stakes with a chance at a Triple Crown since Baffert’s Justify in 2018.
Baffert has horses running on Preakness weekend for the first time in two years after returning from a ban stemming from 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed drug test. The trainer was not able to enter horses in the Derby either of the past two years as part of a decision by Churchill Downs.
He also could not have any of his horses in the Preakness or Belmont last year because of a related 90-day ban in Kentucky respected by Maryland and New York.