Bob Baffert, trainer of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem, said on a national teleconference Thursday he is going to try to enjoy his third attempt at a Triple Crown sweep, and advised Magic Weisner's trainer Nancy Alberts to do the same.
"I remember Penny Chenery (owner of Secretariat) told me that she wishes she would have enjoyed the Triple Crown more," Baffert said. "She was too tense before the race and felt a lot of pressure. Before you know it, it's gone. I'm just going to go to New York, have a good time, and take it all in.
"This is exciting for me, just like it's exciting for the fans. I'm dying to see what this black sonofagun is going to do. I'm getting pumped. But I have to keep my level down so I don't jinx myself. I want to see him do what Point Given did last year. He's already done some amazing things -- things I've never seen horses do. I've been preoccupied, worrying about all my other horses, and I've gotten a little testy at times. I get nervous every time he breezes, and I'm always watching the weather and the track surface. But you just have to enjoy it. Congaree came back last weekend and ran awesome, and I feel like I got my mojo back."
Alberts, who finished second in the Preakness with her Maryland-bred gelding, will not have much time to enjoy her first visit to Belmont Park, as she doesn't plan on arriving until the day before the race.
"I've had a lot of wild offers when I get to New York," she said on the teleconference, "but I'm just going to hang around with my horse and look at the track. I have no other plans. Jimmy Ryerson (who trained 1996 Kentucky Derby favorite Unbridled's Song) told me the same thing Bob did. When I saw him the day of the Federico Tesio, he said, 'Don't let anyone bother you. Just have fun.'"
Alberts said she's received "quite a few" offers for Magic Weisner. "They were all wonderful offers, because he's a gelding," she said. "I've really been surprised by them. Some have been for $1 million. That's a lot for a gelding. But I don't see why I shouldn't keep him. I have some health problems, and money can't buy your health."
Baffert said the Triple Crown road gets smoother every time he goes on it. He has already suffered two gut-wrenching defeats in the Belmont with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in '98, both of whom were narrowly beaten in their quest for a Triple Crown sweep.
"Having had the experience makes it easier," Baffert said. "Everything has been running smoothly so far, so I'm just going to enjoy the moment. I probably appreciate it more this time, because the others were back to back. Now it's been a few years since it last happened. I've got so much respect for the horses who have won the Triple Crown. They were such tough horses to have won all three races. Look at all the great horses who could only win the first two legs. They had to be great just to win the Derby and the Preakness. But it takes a lot of luck and the ability to overcome everything in order to get that third one.
"What I love about this horse is that he's not only fast, he has great stamina. And he reminds me of Sunday Silence – he's dark and he has that mean streak. He's like Point Given in that he can just go and go. He has such a tremendous and efficient stride, and that's so important going a mile and a half at Belmont."
One rider who is confident he has the horse to put a stop to War Emblem's Triple Crown quest is Mike Smith, who was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness aboard Proud Citizen.
"I really thought I had a legitmate excuse in the Preakness," Smith said on the teleconference. "He veered to the outside at the start, and then I got hung wide on the first turn. The turns at Pimlico aren't banked, so when you get hung out there, you're pretty far out. My horse is very versatile, and he's also very quick, so he can be on the lead if they let him have it. It all depends on the draw and the break."
Smith also feels he has a home-court advantage at Belmont, having ridden there for so many years. "I know this course pretty well," he said. "I think Proud Citizen also has a bit of a home-court advantage as well, having broken his maiden there," Smith said. "He's proven he likes the sand base. It would be great to pull this off in New York. There are a lot of people there who have helped me out, and I still have a lot of friends there. I really think I have a big chance. I know things about this track, and I feel I'm on the most versatile horse."