- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

BALTIMORE War Emblem may not be favored in Saturday's 127th Preakness Stakes, but trainer Bob Baffert yesterday said the long-shot Kentucky Derby winner remains an undeniable contender.

"He's like a stealth bomber black, fast and dangerous,'' Baffert said.

Medaglia d'Oro was named the 5-2 morning-line choice over War Emblem (3-1) following the 13-horse draw, one short of the maximum. Harlan's Holiday (9-2) and Proud Citizen (6-1) were the only others rated less than 10-1.

The draw quickly centered on the expected early front-runners gaining outside posts. Baffert chose No.8 with the second pick, hoping to gain the favorable middle of the track in the opening 3/16th-mile run to the first turn of Pimlico Race Course. Table Limit and Booklet took Nos.9 and 10, respectively, meaning the front-runners will probably cross over the pack to set a faster pace than the Derby, when War Emblem took an easy early lead.

Baffert dared rivals to test War Emblem early after the colt's runaway Derby victory. War Emblem's strong finish showed he has the needed stamina over a long distance. The 13/16th mile Preakness is 1/16th mile shorter than the Derby.

"Anyone will have to really use their horse to get position,'' Baffert said. "I know my horse has the stamina.''

Booklet and Table Limit are expected to contest the early pace. Baffert may risk War Emblem laying slightly behind the leaders after three straight wire-to-wire victories. However, Booklet trainer John Ward and Table Limit trainer D.Wayne Lukas both denied they'll set a frantic early pace that would also compromise their chances.

"I don't have that kind of speed so if War Emblem gets away cleanly I can just draft behind him,'' Lukas said. "We have no intention to go with him. I don't think we could if we wanted.''

Instead, most trainers believe War Emblem will again set the early pace. It just may be faster than the Derby's opening quarter mile of 231/5 seconds.

"I think War Emblem has a high cruising speed and waltz out there,'' Lukas said. "Somebody will have to do something we haven't seen yet. You shouldn't be surprised if he waltzes past the grandstand by himself the first time around.''

Harlan's Holiday trainer Ken McPeek is pessimistic over gaining a fast early pace that would benefit his closer.

"I still think there will be a questionable pace again. I think they'll all slow it down again,'' McPeek said. "Our [Derby] was lost from the gate to the first turn. [Jockey] Edgar Prado relaxed when in previous races he asked Harlan's Holiday to be [near the lead]. We anticipated [a fast pace] and it didn't happen.''

Harlan's Holiday was the highest Derby favorite ever at 6-1 before finishing seventh. Owner Jack Wolf now prefers being the third choice. Then again, only one of the last six Derby winners became Preakness favorites Pimlico fans often look for close finishers.

"When you are the favorite they're all wolfing after you,'' Wolf said.

War Emblem, Booklet, Proud Citizen and Harlan's Holiday arrived from Louisville aboard two planes. War Emblem's star treatment began immediately when Baffert decided the Derby winner's traditional stall 40 was unsuitable despite an erroneous overhead sign saying it was for past "Preakness'' champions that included War Emblem. The colt likes to bite and the corner stall would endanger unsuspecting passersby along with the filly in the adjacent stall. Instead, War Emblem is in stall 32 adjacent to his stable pony, Cisco.

"I still wouldn't turn my back on him,'' Baffert said. "He's tough.''

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