Horse Health

2023 Preakness Stakes: Bob Baffert-trained horse Havnameltdown euthanized after injury

“The Triple Crown Slaughter Continues…”

The Triple Crown series is once again grappling with another horse death.

Bob Baffert-trained horse and favorite Havnameltdown, behind the curtain, was euthanized Saturday during the sixth race of Preakness Day at Pimlico. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Two weeks after the Kentucky Derby was overshadowed by the death of seven horses at Churchill Downs, and a month after racing was suspended at Laurel Park following the death of two horses on the same day, tragedy struck again Saturday, this time at Pimlico Race Course.

Less than halfway through Preakness day, Bob Baffert-trained horse Havnameltdown was euthanized after suffering an ankle injury in an undercard race. Hours later, Baffert’s National Treasure won the 148th Preakness Stakes in a dramatic finish.

The fatal incident occurred as the 3-year-old colt was rounding the far turn in the day’s sixth race, appeared to take a bad step and sent jockey Luis Saez crashing to the dirt.

Havnameltdown continued to gallop down the track, struggling to stay upright on its visibly injured front left leg before being corralled. He suffered a broken left front fetlock, an inoperable injury according to Dr. Dionne Benson, the chief veterinary officer for 1/ST Racing, which owns Pimlico and the Maryland Jockey Club.

“We never had an issue with him,” Baffert said in a statement. “We are so careful with all these horses, and it still happens. It is something that is disheartening.”

Saez was conscious and upright when he was loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher and taken to Sinai Hospital but complained of lower leg pain, officials said. His agent tweeted Saturday evening that Saez was released from the hospital and is “doing great” and said Sunday that Saez would ride in races that day at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

This year’s Preakness marks the first time that Baffert has been back at Pimlico since a year-long suspension stemming from 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed drug test.

Baffert was not allowed to enter horses in the Derby the last two years nor last year’s Preakness or Belmont because of a 90-day ban in Kentucky that was also enforced by Maryland and New York.

“I feel so bad for that horse, and I just hope that Luis [Saez] is OK,” Baffert said. “The way he was riding him; the horse was moving, he was going on with it. He looked like the winner … it’s the worst feeling. And we grieve. We do grieve when these things happen. There is nothing worse than coming back and the stall is empty. He is a nice horse. He could not have been doing any better. It’s sickening. I am in shock.”

Havnameltdown, the favorite at 4-5 in the $200,000 48th Chick Lang Stakes and in the No. 1 post, was bumped out of the gate by No. 2 Ryvit and broke a step slow but continued running in the 6-furlong race. As Havnameltdown made its way through the final turn, though, the horse stumbled, launching Saez from its back.

Fans gasped as the shocking scene unfolded, while at the same far end of the track, Tupac’s “California Love” continued to blast from speakers near where the incident took place.

While medical personnel attended to Saez, black curtains were brought out around Havnameltdown and the horse was put down on the track after being evaluated by a team of veterinarians led by Benson.

“Due to the severity and prognosis of the injury, Dr. Benson and her counterparts made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Havnameltdown,” 1/ST Racing said in a statement. “The loss of Havnameltdown will be felt across the entire horse racing community, and everyone at the Maryland Jockey Club and 1/ST Racing extends our heartfelt condolences to Havnameltdown’s connections.”

Havnameltdown’s death marked the third in the last seven years on Preakness day. In 2016, Homeboykris died after collapsing while walking back to the barn following a win in the first race of the day and Pramedya was euthanized after breaking her front left leg three races later.

Though horse racing deaths in the U.S. are at their lowest level since they began being tracked in 2009, the sport has also come under fire in recent weeks for the fatalities that have occurred.

While Saturday’s was different from how most of the deaths at Churchill Downs took place — two of the seven there were because of race day injuries — concerns have been raised about the industry. Baffert in particular has come under scrutiny, with at least 74 horses under his care in California between 2000 and 2021 having died, according to a 2021 Washington Post analysis. Last year alone, a total of 328 thoroughbreds — an average of six per week — died at American racetracks, according to the Equine Injury Database.

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, blasted the industry following the most recent death at Pimlico.

“The tragic loss of Havnameltdown at the 2023 Preakness, coming after the eight horse deaths prior to and since the Kentucky Derby, underscores the urgent need for sweeping reforms in the horse racing industry,” she said in a statement. “It’s time to prioritize horse safety, implement the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act doping program, and stop gambling with racehorses’ lives.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals senior vice president Kathy Guillermo also took aim at horse racing, and Baffert in particular.

“Pimlico should have followed Churchill Downs’ example and barred Bob Baffert from the track,” she said in a statement. “Baffert has been implicated in drugging scandals, the deaths of seven horses who collapsed in California, and at least 75 horses in his care have died. The tragic death of Havnameltdown is the latest in a long line of fatalities. The racing industry must kick out the bad guys or it will have blood on its hands as well as blood on its tracks.”

Fans in attendance who witnessed the race also struck a somber tone.

Mike Suter, of Fallston, has annually attended the Preakness since 1990 and was watching the race as Havnameltdown broke down.

“Just heart-breaking,” Suter said. “You feel so bad for the owners, the trainer, it’s just devastating.

“It’s a terrible thing. These are beautiful animals.”

Added racing fan Steve Dempsey, 66, who has attended the Preakness since 1998: “It’s always been a risk to the sport.”

Ryvit, ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, meanwhile, went on to win the race for his fourth victory in seven career starts. Prince of Jericho and Frosted Departure finished second and third, respectively.

“That was very unfortunate and hopefully Luis is OK,” Gaffalione said. “We were kind of heads up, and he just kind of disappeared. I looked back and I saw Luis coming off the side. Hopefully, nothing serious.”

Havnameltdown was the second horse that had to be removed from the track Saturday. In the day’s second race, Torch of Truth was vanned off after pulling up, though the injury was deemed not to be serious by his trainer Mike Trombetta.

5 replies »

  1. Just sad and tragic that things like that continue to happen…And over his career can Baffert have atleast 75 horses die and not think something needs to change because even one should be unacceptable..


  2. Every trainer, owner & SPECTATOR contributes to this! Every person who buys a ticket or bets contributes to this. Baffert is only ONE trainer – how many others have had the same kind of mortality with these 2 and 3 year old BABIES? So yeah sure is sad & tragic, but because this industry brings in the profits it does – THATS how this death show continues.
    Far too many of these horses get sold out the back of the stables to slaughter if they dont WIN!
    Its up to the public to become informed rather than entertained.


  3. It should be against the law to race any horse under 5 years of age. The babies bones have not yet formed for this kind of racing. All for profit. Disgusting. I cannot watch any of these races anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

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