- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Trainer Bob Baffert awakened jockey Victor Espinoza yesterday to watch video replays of War Emblem's previous races. The California jockey hadn't ridden War Emblem before the Kentucky Derby, and it was also Baffert's first race since buying the colt for $1 million on April 3.
Baffert needed to talk strategy. War Emblem's natural front-running style could have easily been compromised in a race known for its fast starts and long stretches. Baffert wanted Espinoza to restrain War Emblem from running too hard too early that would have ended by becoming another victim of Heartbreak Lane when turning for home. Baffert's plan ended perfectly as War Emblem won by four lengths.
Breaking down the tape proved the difference. Baffert knew the other horses from previous races, but he didn't know his own entrant well enough to decide when Espinoza needed to start urging the colt.
The two viewed War Emblem's replays in the stable office like a coach and player watching an opposing team. Baffert knew the loss of Buddha to injury Friday left the field without another speedball.
But Espinoza was skeptical. The Derby is often a charge to the first turn like bumper cars at the county fair. No one had won the Derby wire-to-wire in 14 years. Surely, Espinoza would have to be aggressive early.
"These kinds of races nobody ever gets away," he said. "Everbybody follows the one in front [closely]. Most of the time you get in a lot of trouble in the first turn so you have to be smart. After that, it was easy."
Baffert's pep talk was patience, patience, patience. He hammered the point endlessly. It seemed Espinoza listened well. The opening quarter was a slow 23 1/5 seconds while the first half mile was 47 seconds nearly two seconds slower than some Derbies.
When Proud Citizen loomed outside and Perfect Drift rallied inside at the top of the stretch, Espinoza refused to panic. Instead, he waited until the eighth pole before urging War Emblem, who pulled away with every stride for a four-length victory.
"It wasn't that hard. It was easy turning for home," Espinoza said. "I knew at the half-mile pole that I had more horse than anybody behind me. [War Emblem] is so slick, so smooth, so easy."
Many losing jockeys could only curse their misjudgment.
"Everybody's thinking there's a lot of speed, but they don't ride their horse," said jockey Donnie Meche, who finished 14th about Private Emblem. "I knew that one horse was going to go out there and crawl and that's exactly what happened."
Jockey Eddie Delahoussaye was third nearly the entire race with Perfect Drift. The slow pace prevented him from drifting farther back and making a hard, late run. Delahoussaye needed to restrain Perfect Drift from seeking the premature lead, but it also left him without a late kick.
"I thought they would go the half [mile] in 46, not 47," Delahoussaye said. "I was being dragged along with the race. Go watch the tapes and you'll see I was strangling the horse like we were going a mile and a half. But there was no place. I just don't know where those other horses were. I thought there'd be some push up front, but no. What can you say? That's horse racing."
Came Home jockey Chris McCarron defended the early pace, saying it wasn't that slow after one-half mile.
"If he had gotten away with a 48 or 49 [second] pace, then we would have had a lot of hot trainers to deal with for letting War Emblem go that slowly," McCarron said. "He ran a legitimate race. It was probably a little slower than I thought he might go. He was the best horse. He set all the fractions and didn't look back."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide