Since 2017, the first big money race of the year has taken place in South Florida. The purse may have diminished a bit since the first running of the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park, but the miraculous performances have not.
The eighth running of this now $3 million race took place on January 27 with a familiar result. Front end speed holding on and a Bob Baffert trainee waltzing to the winner’s circle made this a déjà vu all over again scenario.
National Treasure came into this eighth running of this mile and an eighth run over the South Florida dirt with a game plan. Having enjoyed 2023 Preakness glory in gate to wire fashion and after nearly shocking the world in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile using the same style, it was a given this son of Quality Road would be near the front early on. Question was, would he have enough in the tank.
When the gates opened, National Treasure got his money’s worth early on. Moving towards the front, Treasure was joined and in fact passed by the equally speedy Hoist The Gold. Settling just off a solid early pace (23.18 opening quarter, 46.18 half mile), jockey Flavien Prat kept his runner relaxed and rolling. At the top of the stretch, National Treasure cut loose with a million dollar move and jetted right by frontrunning Hoist The Gold. Opening up by 2 ½ lengths in the blink of an eye, it was now all about the fitness.
As the wire drew ever closer, the only potential spoiler for the California-based Treasure came in the form of a fast closing Senor Buscador. Digging in very gamely and calling on every ounce of preparation, the spotlight remained on National as he prevailed by a neck.
The win by National Treasure provided Baffert with his third win in this the eight running. In a race seemingly made to order for Big Race Bob and his normally speed-favoring runners, the secret to his high winning percentage is simple.
“We try to bring a good horse and just train him up to the race so he gives you his best effort on that day”, says Baffert. “My program is pretty simple. Having a fit, happy, and healthy horse is the key.”
National Treasure has now won three races in eleven lifetime starts and earned $3,322,000 on the track.