- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 19, 2002

BALTIMORE War Emblem made his doubters look foolish again.
The early challengers never came and the ralliers were too late. War Emblem is now one leg short of becoming racing's 12th Triple Crown champion after he took the 127th Preakness Stakes yesterday over Magic Weisner by three-fourths length.
"I think we all found out today that opinions die, records live," War Emblem trainer Bob Baffert said. "This horse is for real."
Certainly, War Emblem is no longer considered a front-running fluke. The 101,138 at Pimlico Race Course made him the first favorite, at 5-2, to win the Preakness since Alysheba in 1987 after War Emblem took the Kentucky Derby at 20-1. Now he'll seek to become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978 in the 134th Belmont Stakes on June 8.
"All we have to do is keep War Emblem healthy and fresh and ready," Baffert said. "[Jockey] Victor Espinoza has this horse figured out. He's having fun. But the pressure is on for the Belmont. There will be more shooters, more rabbits."
Surprisingly, the Preakness wasn't the early speed duel expected from several rivals promising to deny War Emblem the same easy quick lead that let the jet black colt win the Derby wire-to-wire. Booklet never showed his sprinting speed despite trainer John Ward's pledge to "ambush" War Emblem. Menacing Dennis was the only early contender, but the 50-1 long shot never figured to last long so Espinoza didn't waste War Emblem on the phony challenger.
"I had a feeling Booklet was going to take back," Baffert said. "If they were going to send him they would have put him on the inside [post position]. John Ward was trying to get somebody else to please go with us."
In his five previous career victories, War Emblem won by leading from the start so it was a slight risk that he stayed behind Menacing Dennis yesterday. However, Espinoza showed signs of keeping War Emblem in check during the Derby when the colt accelerated over the final eighth mile when finally tapped with the whip.
Espinoza began urging War Emblem entering the final turn and the colt soared past a tiring Menacing Dennis. Derby runner-up Proud Citizen loomed outside for second as he did in the Derby while Harlan's Holiday was third. Second-choice Medaglia d'Oro dropped back from third so the race appeared decided when War Emblem entered the stretch 11/2 lengths ahead of Proud Citizen.
Shaking the whip by War Emblem's head at the top of the stretch, Espinoza was trying to get the colt in full stride without asking for everything. Proud Citizen simply couldn't catch his rival again. Magic Weisner soared outside in the final yards for second.
"Wire. Where's the wire?" Baffert screamed. "That's a long stretch."
Said Espinoza: "It was a little tougher to rate this time, but he was the best horse."
The 1:56 1/5 winning time over 1 3/16 miles wasn't even close to the 10 fastest Preaknesses as early rain left the track a little heavy despite a "fast" rating.
Magic Weisner busted a number of exactas among the crowd that wagered a Preakness record $42.3 million.
Seeking to become the first local winner since Deputed Testamony in 1983, Magic Weisner rallied from 10th midway and seventh on the final turn to nearly steal the race.
"It was a shame he ran out of racetrack," jockey Richard Migliore said. "He was getting to War Emblem pretty quick."
Trainer Nancy Alberts said Magic Weisner will run locally and won't enter the Belmont. Still, it was a $200,000 payday for Alberts, who also owns the colt.
"Coming down the stretch, I thought I would get third," Alberts said. "The race unfolded exactly as I thought it would except I didn't expect to be that far back."
Proud Citizen stalked War Emblem from the final turn just like the Derby.
Jockey Mike Smith even pushed the colt to within three-fourths length at the eighth pole before War Emblem dug in. Smith said a bad first step and Booklet not pressing War Emblem early cost Proud Citizen the victory.
"I really believe I had a legitimate excuse," Smith said. "I thought I had a big shot. I got to War Emblem's hip, but he had enough to put me off."
Straight Gin suffered a career-ending injury when he bowed a tendon during his ninth-place finish.
"He must have jumped and hit himself," trainer Nick Zito said. "The horse was training so well. He was poetry in motion."


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