- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

War Emblem will face another starting gate filled with doubters in Saturday's 134th Belmont Stakes. Eleven rivals will tie a record for the most against a colt seeking the Triple Crown.
The $1 million purse and streak of seven straight losing Triple Crown wannabes have emboldened the field with six entrants already beaten by War Emblem in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. Comparatively, Secretariat (1973) and Affirmed (1978) faced only four Belmont rivals when sweeping the Triple Crown.
"I don't think it's a lack of respect," Baffert said. "It's a big race. It's easy to get caught up in it. I'm sure after the race some of them wonder 'Why'd I do that for?'"
War Emblem was installed the heavy even-money favorite over Derby runner-up Proud Citizen (5-1). Perfect Drift (6-1), who skipped the Preakness to ready for the Belmont after finishing third in the Derby, was the only other colt rated less than 10-1. Maryland's Magic Weisner drew No. 11 at 15-1 after finishing second in the Preakness.
War Emblem drew the No. 10 post yesterday at Belmont Park after opening from No. 8 in the Preakness and No. 5 in the Derby. The expected front-runner can easily cross over the field to make the post drawing's impact negligible.
"I wanted an outside post," Baffert said. "He is a fast horse. He can leave there and dictate the kind of pace that he wants."
Wiseman's Ferry could seek the early lead over War Emblem, who won the Preakness after laying second early. It was War Emblem's first career victory when not leading the entire race. Opponents hope War Emblem won't set a slow early pace that will provide him late stamina.
"Wiseman's Ferry is a horse that could keep War Emblem honest up front," said Sarava trainer Ken McPeek. "Then again, War Emblem may need to keep him honest. At 1 miles, a lot can happen."
Rivals hope the long stretch will finally let them catch War Emblem, though many Belmont winners were decidedly ahead with a quarter mile remaining. McPeek, whose Harlan's Holiday lost the Derby and Preakness, hopes War Emblem is worn by three classics in five weeks.
"I think he's going to struggle worse in this race than the others," McPeek said. "He's run quite a few races in a row that are pretty difficult. It's hard to keep a horse on peak like that."
Baffert has downplayed his record third Triple Crown attempt. War Emblem and Baffert arrived at Belmont yesterday from Louisville, Ky., where the colt trains. Still, there's not only the pressure of trying to become the first Triple Crown winner in 24 years and 12th overall, but also gaining the $5 million bonus for the sweep. Baffert's Silver Charm and Real Quiet finished second in 1997 and 1998, respectively, after winning the first two legs.
"I probably appreciate it more this time because it's been a few years," Baffert said. "It brings out the kid in all of us."
Baffert downplayed skepticism of the colt's worthiness to join racing's immortals after taking the Derby at 20-1. War Emblem has won four straight and trailed only briefly for the Preakness by design. Jockey Victor Espinoza will have to carefully rate the colt early in the longest U.S. major stakes to pass the "Test of Champions."
"If you win the first two legs, you're a great horse, but you have to have the luck to win the third leg," Baffert said. "You have to overcome obstacles."
War Emblem has been compared to both 1977 Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew and 1989 Derby-Preakness winner Sunday Silence. War Emblem has the same motion as Seattle Slew and nearly identical black coat and white markings of Sunday Silence, plus his nasty temperament.
"This horse is a cross between Sunday Silence and Seattle Slew," Baffert said. "They want to get it on. They're aggressive. They have that mean streak."

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