It's Baffert again- War Emblem leads wire-to-wire in Derby win

Sunday, May 5, 2002

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Bob Baffert is one baffling guy when it comes to the Kentucky Derby.

Last year the trainer had the favorite and lost. On Saturday, he had a long shot and won.

War Emblem went wire-to-wire and left 17 3-year-old challengers in the dust, rolling to a four-length victory over Proud Citizen and giving Baffert his third Derby victory in six years.

"I loved this horse," Baffert said, referring to the dark bay colt he started training just three weeks ago. "I just didn't know if he was good enough."

He had no doubts last year, but Point Given finished fifth before winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Now, War Emblem, who went off at 20-1, will be pointed to the Preakness on May 18.

"It was a really humbling experience after last year," Baffert said. "I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. No problem. You've got to be lucky to fall on this horse like that."

But Baffert is one lucky dude. He lost more than a dozen Derby prospects for various reasons, including the Saturday morning scratch of Danthebluegrassman.

And the only reason he had War Emblem was because Saudi Prince Ahmed Salman bought the horse after it won the Illinois Derby and sent it to Baffert's barn three weeks ago.

"If this horse wins the Derby, it will be the best and shortest training job ever," Baffert said before the race.

After it, he joked: "Don't you think this is the best and shortest training job of my life?"

Not many would argue, especially the prince.

First Arab winner

"It's an honor to win the Kentucky Derby. It's been my dream," said Salman, the first Arab owner to win the Derby. "I love you guys in America. Bob Baffert is a genius."

The victory at Churchill Downs was Baffert's third in the last six Derbys; he won with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998.

The trainer joined Max Hirsch and "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons as three-time Derby-winning trainers. Only D. Wayne Lukas, with four, and Ben A. Jones, with six, have more.

Proud Citizen, Lukas' last-minute Derby chance after the colt won the Lexington Stakes, ran a solid second. Like Baffert, Lukas was not considered a serious contender despite past Derby success.

"I couldn't be happier with the way this horse ran," said Lukas, after finishing second in the Derby for the first time. "He beat some nice horses and I think he'll beat some more down the line."

War Emblem, as expected, set the pace in the 1 1/4-mile Derby, and never let go of the lead, finishing in 2:01 -- seventh-fastest in Derby history and officially listed by the track at 2:01.13. The record belongs to Secretariat at 1:59 2-5 in 1973.

The victory was No. 5 in seven career starts and made him the first Derby winner to lead from the start since the filly Winning Colors in 1988.

"I told the prince, 'I owe you a Derby after last year,"' Baffert said. "... The prince kept saying, 'Pinch me, Pinch me. Is this really happening?' "

Proud Citizen was followed by Perfect Drift and Medaglia d'Oro, all of whom broke behind the winner and never seriously challenged for the lead.

Harlan's Holiday, the 6-1 favorite was seventh and never a factor.

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