2023 Preakness: Bob Baffert-trained horse Havnameltdown euthanized after injury during race; jockey hospitalized

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BALTIMORE — The day wasn’t even half over when tragedy struck on Preakness Day at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday.

Hours before the second leg of the Triple Crown, Bob Baffert-trained horse and favorite Havnameltdown was euthanized after suffering a catastrophic injury to its front left ankle on the stretch turn of the day’s sixth race. The 3-year-old’s leg buckled forward and the horse threw jockey Luis Saez to the dirt before continuing to run in distress.

The death comes two weeks after the Kentucky Derby was overshadowed by the deaths of seven horses at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., leading up to the first jewel of the Triple Crown and a month after racing was suspended at Laurel Park following the death of two horses on the same day.

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

Saez, who might’ve been struck by the horse, was conscious when he was loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher and taken to a Sinai Hospital, but complained of lower leg pain.

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 upheld 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, was rounding the far turn in the $200,000 48th Chick Lang Stakes and took what appeared to be a bad step before sending Saez tumbling. The horse continued to hobble along before being corralled.

Black curtains were brought out and Havnameltdown was put down on the track after being evaluated by a team of veterinarians led by Dr. Dionne Benson.

“During the subsequent evaluation, she observed a non-operable left fore fetlock injury,” 1/ST Racing, the owner of Pimlico Race Course and Maryland Jockey Club, said in a statement. “Due to the severity and prognosis of the injury, Dr. Benson and her counterparts made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Havnameltdown.

“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.

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. “It’s time to prioritize horse safety, implement the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act doping program, and stop gambling with racehorses’ lives.”

PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo also issued a statement following the fatal injury.

“Pimlico should have followed Churchill Downs’ example and barred Bob Baffert from the track,” she said. “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.”