- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

ELMONT, N.Y. War Emblem's misstep suddenly has racing stumbling for a marquee horse this summer. The failed Triple Crown bidder and several leading contenders will rest over the coming months, while long shots and also-rans headline a lackluster generation.
Saratoga's famed summer meeting may draw the top three Belmont Stakes finishers, but Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes champion War Emblem probably won't return until the fall in preparation for the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 26 at Illinois' Arlington Park. With Derby runner-up Proud Citizen resting at least three months after a cracked shin in the Belmont and Maryland's Magic Weisner aiming for Mid-Atlantic stakes after finishing second in the Preakness and fourth in the Belmont, no significant national showdowns may come until the Breeders' Cup.
War Emblem's poor start and lackluster eighth-place Belmont finish tarnished an exciting Triple Crown series that gained its highest TV ratings in a decade. More than 100,000 attended each of the three races for the first time to produce three betting records, but the year instead will be remembered for long-shot Derby and Belmont winners.
It was a striking turnaround from five weeks of high expectations following War Emblem's wire-to-wire Derby victory. War Emblem's victory at the Preakness as the favorite fanned hopes of the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978. Instead, the horse became the eighth-straight double crown winner to fail the "Test of Champions."
A stumble nearly to his knees at the start hurt War Emblem's chances in the 1-mile Belmont. However, the slow early pace allowed the coal black colt to gain the lead briefly with a half-mile remaining. He simply faded on the final turn.
"Since the Preakness, we've fretted and worried and got this horse here the best way we know how, and then he never got his chance," said Bob Baffert, the colt's trainer. "It would be like Shaq getting ready to play in the NBA Finals and then stubbing his toe and being unable to play. All of that work went for nothing, and that's what's hard."
It was the third Triple Crown failure in six years for Baffert, who joked it would take a $5 million purse instead of the current $1 million to lure him back to Belmont Park should he win another Derby. Baffert won the Belmont last year with Point Given after taking the Preakness. A sixth-place Derby finish prevented a Triple Crown bid, but Point Given took two-thirds like Baffert's Derby-Preakness winners Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998) did, just without the drama.
"The shame of this whole thing is that all of those fans never got a chance to see the real War Emblem," Baffert said. "That's what's disappointing to me. Silver Charm and Real Quiet at least got to run their races."
Belmont winner Sarava and runner-up Medaglia d'Oro may meet in the $1 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 at Saratoga. Medaglia d'Oro could first face third-place finisher Sunday Break in the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga or the $1 million Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. Both races are Aug. 4.
Still, none of the trio has War Emblem's starpower. Sarava's 70-to-1 victory was the longest in 134 Belmonts. The winner had one other modest stakes triumph before Saturday's win. Fans will remain skeptical until the colt delivers another major victory. Medgalia d'Oro lost all three Triple Crown races as an expected contender. Sunday Break missed the first two legs, though his Belmont effort showed he could develop into a fall contender.
War Emblem seemingly has locked up the 3-year-old colt championship. However, Horse of the Year remains open, with Maryland filly Xtreme Heat among those taking advantage of War Emblem's break. War Emblem still must prove he's more than a speedy front-runner of a mediocre generation to snare the overall honors.


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