The Preakness Stakes (G1) was short on starters, but certainly not in drama.

It was a field of seven, including Kentucky Derby winner Mage (the only horse from the Derby to run in the Preakness), who went postward in the 148th edition of the second jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland.

By the end of the 1 3/16-mile race, it was National Treasure, a bay son of Quality Road-Treasure, trained by Bob Baffert, who bested a gutsy Blazing Sevens by a head in a mesmerizing stretch duel in front of a packed house.

Mage, who hit his head in his stall two days before the race, finished third and ended his quest to become the first horse since 2018 to win the Triple Crown when Justify, trained by Baffert, swept the series.

The field had lost one starter ahead of the race when Godolphin ruled out Lexington Stakes (G3) winner First Mission due to a left hind ailment.

With the scratch, it meant the seven hopefuls represented the smallest number to contest the Preakness since 1986, when Snow Chief recorded a four-length triumph over Derby winner Ferdinand.

But there was still plenty to talk about before and after the gates opened.

Baffert, inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2009, made his return to the Triple Crown for the first time since Medina Spirit’s third-place Preakness run in 2021. Regulatory suspensions and racetrack bans had prevented him from taking part in Triple Crown races in 2022 and this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Earlier on the card, one of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized after an injury suffered in the Chick Lang Stakes.

Fellow hall of famer John Velazquez, aboard National Treasure, was searching for his first Preakness crown. After three Derby scores and two Belmont wins, he was hoping this would be the year he could add a victory in the middle jewel to his extensive and impressive resume.

The 51-year-old Velazquez would need to go the extra mile to achieve that goal.

Breaking from post one, National Treasure, who arrived at the Preakness off a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 8, took command from the outset and led the field through early splits of :23.95 and :48.92.

Around the turn for home, the colt was confronted by a charging Blazing Sevens while Mage attempted to launch an outside bid of his own.

National Treasure, to the inside, and Blazing Sevens continued their tete-a-tete down the lane, making contact at one point, as Mage and jockey Javier Castellano tried in vain to collar the leaders.

In the final steps, it was National Treasure, second choice on the tote board to Mage, who put his head in front to take all the spoils in 1:55.12 over a fast track.

“Losing that horse today really hurt, but I’m happy for Johnny,” said Baffert, who won his record eighth Preakness. “He got the win. I have a great team. … I’m sorry, but it’s been a very emotional day.”

Bred by in Kentucky by Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds, LLC, National Treasure is owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Bob Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan.

Feature image: ©Mark Abraham/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News