- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

ELMONT, N.Y. The longest U.S. major stakes race was over for War Emblem yesterday after just one step one very bad step.
War Emblem stumbled leaving the starting gate in the 134th Belmont Stakes, spelling an end to his chances for the Triple Crown. The race was already lost despite nearly the entire 1 miles remaining. The Belmont was won by 70-1 long shot Sarava.
"If I would have had a walkie-talkie, I would have told [jockey Victor Espinoza] to pull him up," War Emblem trainer Bob Baffert said. "It was a super disadvantage."
War Emblem loves the lead. He won the Kentucky Derby wire-to-wire and was a close second midway until emerging to take the Preakness Stakes. The colt doesn't like sand stinging his face, and it was a major setback when he was forced to nearly eat dirt after stumbling to his knees out of the Belmont Park starting gate.
The 6-5 favorite, trying to become the first Triple Crown champion in 24 years, was fourth entering the first turn. Even worse, War Emblem was boxed inside along the backstretch before making a short bid for the lead with one-half mile remaining.
Already exhausted by rallying from the poor start, War Emblem lacked the reserves to continue his bid, steadily falling back to fifth entering the stretch. He finished eighth, the worst ever effort by a colt seeking the Triple Crown.
"I lost everything at the start,'' Espinoza said. "I was thinking about where I could save him [for a late run]. I had to wait as much as I could. I didn't want to use my horse too early."
The Triple Crown jinx struck again to deny a 12th member of the club. Baffert had joked that fate owed him a Triple Crown after two near-misses; instead, it tripped him up. Although the last seven seekers lost by injury, photo finishes and poor riding, none was eliminated by a bad start.
Earlier, a record Belmont crowd of 103,222 had been poised for racing's newest superstar. Fans ringed the saddling area more than 15 deep and responded with a roar each time War Emblem was shown on the big TV screens. Many supporters wore military clothes and War Emblem T-shirts.
The coal black colt seemed ready for another big effort. He was calm during the post parade when several other horses were skittish before the large crowd. He jogged to the starting gate, eager to enter.
Baffert said before the race the only thing he feared was a poor start, despite the colt having no history of it. War Emblem needed the early lead to dictate the pace of the extraordinarily long race.
The early pace was exactly what War Emblem would have set to retain his stamina in the stretch. However, he needed to work too hard to overcome the opening stumble to benefit from the first half-mile's pace of a leisurely 48 seconds.
Expected front-runner Wiseman's Ferry then suddenly tired, and Medaglia d'Oro led Proud Citizen with War Emblem fourth nearing the final turn. War Emblem led for a few strides over Medaglia d'Oro with a half-mile left but then fell back and didn't factor again.
"It was lost at the start," Baffert said. "This horse can't run like that he has to be out there free-running. It wasn't his fault. That's just bad racing luck. It's a tough loss because I really expected this horse to win it.''
It was Baffert's record third miss at the Triple Crown after Silver Charm and Real Quiet finished second in the 1997 and 1998 Belmonts, respectively. The $5million bonus for the spring classics sweep once again was gone, too. Still, it was an unexpected charmed run by a colt who was purchased for nearly $1million just two months ago.
"Before the Derby, I had nothing and here I am,'' Baffert said. "I wanted to [win the Triple Crown], but it's tough.''
War Emblem is expected to rest until the fall, when he will run in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct.26 and the Dubai Cup in March. And Baffert said jokingly that he'll have a new schedule if he ever again wins in Kentucky.
"Next time I win the Derby, I'm heading home," he said.

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