I’m now in Europe on a lecture tour and family vacation, a far cry from my usual equine haunts but a much needed change of pace (pun intended). In my last column I dis-cussed the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown prior to the running, with special emphasis on the dual qualifiers Saarland, Johannesburg, and Came Home. I was quite sure Johannesburg, with only one 2002 start, would do poorly, and indeed he did. The two others also ran out of the money.
The winner War Emblem made a lot of sense to us before the race and was a great value at 20-to-1. His equiform number going in was 78 (off an easy victory in the Illinois Derby). The other contenders had a 75 or 76 at best, so he did have by far the fastest time. However, the handicappers and their con-nections didn’t think he was Derby material, coming from a sire costing $20,000 and yet to prove himself in any top UFABET race. His owner, in a bit of financial trouble as many are these days, offered him for sale. That sly old fox Bob Baffert once again proved his mettle by getting the Thoroughbred Corporation and its Arab sheik owner to buy 90% of him for $900,000, a nice profit indeed!
Bob had won seven of the past sixteen Triple Crown races and had three horses that won two legs recently, but War Emblem was overlooked. His running style is “shot-out-of-a-cannon,” and rarely do such horses have the right dose of stamina to win the Derby, as Winning Colors and Spend a Buck did, wire to wire. War Emblem won easily by four lengths. The runner up, Proud Citizen, was a 75 coming in and did not figure, except that his trainer was D. Wayne Lukas, another “sly old gray fox.” In the Belmont the Preakness favorite was Medaglia Doro who was fourth in the Derby, trained by top trainer Bobby Frankel who seems to win all the time except in Triple Crown and Breeders Cup races. I saw the scenario a repeat of the Derby. War Emblem at 81 and Proud Citizen at 80 were the best, the field argued for that, except for a local Maryland horse at long odds, Magic Weisnere running at 80.
The hype argued for Bob Baffert’s chances once again to win a Triple Crown. Purists like this writer will argue that Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Point Giver and now War Emblem were not of the 1940s to 1970s quality of Secretariat, Affirmed, and Seattle Slew, you only have to look at the times to see that! However, War Emblem looked tough going in and his style was okay for the mile-and-a-half Belmont, but a stumble at the start ruined his chances. He was able to come back and gain the lead but then faded to eighth. Ken McPeek trained Sarava, the winner at huge 70-1 odds, was improving, having run at both Churchill Downs and Pimlico in non-TC races. He won at 75 at Pimlico and was able to upset the Belmont field. Equiform predicted Sarava would be in the Belmont field but a win over this year’s crop of three-year-olds was a weak one. As it is Medaglia Doro came in second with Proud Citizen (now facing a fractured shin and months of rehab) coming in fifth. We will see what the Breeders Cup brings.